It is March 9, 2018. The temperature in Richmond, Virginia hangs around the 40s. The Siegel Center on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth has all but emptied out except for some family members of our basketball team and the coaching staff. Our charter bus awaits outside to take us back to a raucous hotel party. I walk out of the dressing room….. and it hits me. I walk back out on to the court carrying my clothes on my back and my coaching bag at my side in the Siegel Center. I get down on my knees and I lower my head to the center circle and I give it a great big kiss. I stand back up… I look around the arena thinking back to what I just witnessed…. and then I see one of our twelve guys…. walking down the end of the arena hugging parents, friends, family members. This guy isn’t just any other player we have ever had….. this guy is Mac McClung.
Many people got to know Mac as this viral sensation on youtube.com by all of his gravity defying dunks that he would perform in games or in our practices. I knew Mac from way back when he wasn’t the “Big Mac” everyone saw on the internet. You see… my name is Shannon Boy and for the past 19 years I have been a basketball coach at Gate City High School in Gate City, Virginia. I began coaching at Gate City around the time Mac was born. In the 19 years that I have been coaching at Gate City High School (3 with the girls program and 16 with the boys program), I got to see our teams compete for 6 state championships only to come up short in 5 of them. It was like waiting for that one amazing Christmas present you knew you would get one day…. only to realize your family just couldn’t afford the big one just yet.
I had always seen Mac in our basketball camps. He was that little kid that you always saw competing and trying to outdo the bigger kids. The moxy that he would show would impress you but his size…. his size just hadn’t caught up to the confidence that he would talk with.
Mac always had this swagger…. even as a sixth grader. Our head coach, Scott Vermillion, had started our youth basketball league back up. We leveled the playing field to where we thought all teams were equal to make for competitive games. I remember getting the call one day to come and ref some of the games. The youth league teams had pro team names. I do not remember the team name he had at the time…. all I remember from that one night I saw him play was, “Dang… this kid attacks hard!” If Mac left you with any impressions as a little kid, it was that he was going to be the most aggressive kid on the court. He was short of 5 foot nothing…. and he attacked the basket like he was going to dunk the crap out of it. He would go up for layups and I remember telling the dude I was refereeing with at the time…. “Watch this kid! His body control… I swear he is like a miniature Dewayne Wade.” He looked so out of control but in control at the same time. He was one guy that you would watch play and really hope that life would throw him some good breaks….maybe grow a little bit and have that big ticker inside that would keep pushing him to keep getting better.
Well… Gate City got both…a competitor with an insanely huge ticker. As a JV boys assistant coach at the time, I was helping out our JV Head Coach Tommy Musick in practice. We had a one on one contest and Mac was running through everyone. He had the swagger going… the mouth was jawing. He was not going to lose. Coach Musick then states, “Ok… Mac if you win this one… you have to beat Coach Boy for the championship.” Mac just shrugs his shoulders and puts another man down.
Now at this time, Mac has already went through about 6 or 7 guys. I’m fresh but I’m like in my early 40’s and not in the basketball shape I desired to be in….not like I used to be.
But hey… I’m all about a competitive game… so I start talking to Mac myself. Mac has his little strut going on…. I get the ball first. I shoot a 3 from the top of the key…. money. I’m up 1-0 going to 5. I look at Mac and say…”Yo dude… you don’t want none of this.” Mac is already getting ticked off. It is make it – take it. I take the ball… Mac crawls up a little closer to me. I back up a couple of feet and do a step back three…. swish. I’m up 2-0. I just shake my head at Mac and say…. “Dude is that all you got?” Mac’s face is getting red. The players are starting to really rub it in hard on Mac now. One guy says, “Come one Mac… you gonna let Coach Boy beat you?” Mac is really ticked. I take the ball and break down in an attacking stance…. Mac is ready… he thinks. I break down like I’m getting ready to attack and get into shot stance and give him a shot fake. He bites and I go in and score the layup. I’m up 3-0. Mac is beside himself now. I’m feeling pretty good….. I’m also feeling pretty lucky. I’m thinking…. “God please don’t let me miss.” Outside I’m saying….”Mac … you don’t want none dude. This thing is about over.” I get the ball back again. I break him down …. he is so hyped up he is ready for anything. I get my first step by him and go up for a layup. He contests it and I miss it but go back for my own rebound. We are going at it until he gets it. I’m thinking….this isn’t good. Mac has some fire in his eyes. He sets at the top of the key… I check it up. He throws up a three…. I’m thinking yes I got a chance (because he can’t shoot the three that well). I go after it and barely get my rebound…. and say…”check it up.” Now… my legs are really telling me how old I am. The competitor in me though is saying…. “Don’t let this young buck win.”
I get the ball and Mac is like… “Its over coach… its over.” I’m looking at him saying….”Dude… I’m 3-0 on you…. you’re right…. it’s over.” Still he has that determined look on his face. I get the ball… start pulling my dribble back … back…still back. I’m about 6 feet behind the 3 point line. Mac says, “Go ahead coach…. go ahead,” but still looks like he is ready to block it.” I say… “You don’t want me to shoot this dude.” Mac says, “Go ahead coach…seriously go ahead.” I shoot it Steph Curry range….. swish. Mac is beside himself…. the team is going nuts. I’m feeling good right now… but I’m also thinking if I don’t hit another shot its over. I’m up 4-0…. and hoping that fortune favors the brave, I shoot another 3. Off the rim…. and Mac rebounds it. Mac McClung then hits another gear. Constant attack, constant attack constant attack. He is all over every rebound, every miss. Now its 4-4. He is at the three point line…. knowing that he is not a very adept 3 point point shooter I say….”Its all yours man. I dare you to take it!” We have jawed at each other… we have talked smack. Now I’m just hoping he shoots it. My legs are screaming for him to make it as well. The head coach is laughing at me because he can see it in my eyes that I have gave this guy all he wants and don’t have anything left.
Mac looks at says…. “Hey coach!”…. and he shoots it from the top of the key. Swish. Mac looks at me and says…”Game coach!” I look at him… give him a hug and say…”You know dude, I’m glad. I couldn’t bear to beat you. I wouldn’t want to destroy your confidence.” That wasn’t what Mac was wanting to hear. He looks and says, “Coach… you just old. I beat you no problem. I was just waiting for you to mess up so I could just end it.”
Five years later… I stood by his side in a lockerroom once again. This time on a college campus. Five years later…. the same confident Mac was just waiting for the team to mess up so he could end it….. and when the Fighting Leemen from Robert E. Lee High School in Staunton, Virginia decided to play up on a press leaving Mac free with a minute left in the fourth quarter ….. Mac ended it. Mac McClung got a 3/4 length pass from sophomore teammate Bradley Dean and went down the court…. went reverse double clutch dunk on the court and the entire Siegel Center erupted. This was Mac McClung at his best. This was the Mac McClung we all had become accustomed to….. showing everyone around him that would watch him…. that he would not be defeated. Not ever.
This year Mac McClung is in our nation’s capital. This year he is showing everyone that while he may be from a small mountain town in western Virginia…. it isn’t about where you are from… it is all about what is in your heart.
A few days ago, my man went and played on a court that kids from our area could only dream of playing on. Our guy went and played at Madison Square Garden. He went and played the St. John’s Red Storm headed by Chris Mullin and played on national television. If you want to know what Mac McClung is about? Take one game and watch him play. Here are the dreams that basketball can give to you in life. Basketball can teach you a lot of life….but it can also take you places you never dreamed of… especially if you work so hard it hurts. If anyone has put in the hours of work to make dreams come true, our man Mac has. Think about it. Here is a guy from a mountain town of 2,200 people inside the city limits. Our whole county has 27,000 people. We went to Bristol, Virginia and filled an arena up (capacity 10,000). We went to Richmond, Virginia and sold out the Siegel Center (capacity just short of 11,000). Mac then traveled to New York City and Madison Square Garden with the Georgetown Hoyas and a guy from a town of just over 2,000 people showed a city of just over 5,000,000 what heart and guts and living out a dream is all about. That my friend is what basketball gives you in life. The chance to live out dreams and give others the chance to dream. Mac would never had got the chance to do this though if not for a lot of hard work, and some major confidence, belief and swagger that he had within himself.
I once asked him…. “Mac… you ready for the game tomorrow?” He said, “Coach… tomorrow isn’t here yet. When it gets here… I promise you I will be ready.” On one of his social media platforms…he had a simple quote….”I will sleep when I’m dead.” Simple quote…. but it speaks honest volumes about who he is and what he is about.
Mac McClung is in the midst of his freshmen year right now on the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team. This weekend the Hoyas will entertain a team from the Big East that has brought a lot of Big East pride back to the conference recently by winning the national title twice.. once in 2016 and once last year in 2018. I have become a huge admirer of Villanova and Jay Wright over the past few years…not because of them winning the championship but because of the way they run their program. It is done right… it is full of class. It is one of those programs you look at from afar and really admire. While I still admire Coach Wright and the Wildcats, I’m pulling for the Hoyas this weekend. I’m pulling for the Hoyas with Govan, Akingo, Mourning, Pickett, Blair, LeBlanc, Carter, Mosely….oh yeah…. and that one kid McClung. The one little wavy haired kid that I let beat me about six years ago 5-4 on our JV team whose confidence I didn’t want to destroy.
Well…. mission accomplished. I definitely didn’t destroy his confidence…. and I’m glad. The kid is now a man…. a very accomplished man with more dreams to fulfill. I’ve been lucky to share a lot of great moments with this guy….. as a player and as a dude who was my cousin Zac’s best friend. A guy who would drop by at my grandmother’s house anytime he was with him and was treated like one of the family. Soup beans, cornbread and anything else he wanted. In Southwest Virginia it’s all about family…. good times and great memories. In the Gate City basketball program, it’s no different. Mac may be on a national stage but he also remembers where he comes from.
During a year where we sold out arenas and people flocked to watch us play and see what dunk Mac would do on that given night, this guy always made sure to make time to sign every single autograph for every single little kid in line to see him whether it was two to three hours at a time just to make sure he didn’t destroy the dreams of someone who dreamed the same dreams as he did when he was that age. I have seen a lot of things but I have never ever seen the look of quit on our guy’s face. Quit, to give up, wimp out…. these words just will never be in this young man’s dictionary. It is one reason why no one from Gate City, Virginia is really surprised that our Blue Devil is doing as well as he is in the Big East Conference with the Hoyas. When you are a Blue Devil, win or lose…. you compete. Every second, every possession… every quarter. It is what Mac has always known…. on the court and also at home. He was always taught to never settle for second best. He was always told to remember one thing…it isn’t about who you are and it isn’t what you are. It is all about what is in your heart, your mind and soul. If you can truly believe it…. you can truly achieve it. This is Mac’s life motto.
That same 8th grade year when he was on our JV team, I was also an assistant on the varsity team. Our varsity made it to the state championship game and lost to a team that we just hadn’t been able to beat in our schools history. Walking back into the lockerroom to talk to the team, our head coach passed a little Mac McClung, (with future state champion teammates Zac Ervin and the coach’s son Drew Vermillion) in the corridor. Mac spoke up to a heartbroken coach and said, “Hey coach! When I get up there, we are going to win that thing for you!”
March 9, 2018……….mission accomplished. Just as he stated in the corridor as a tiny 8th grader, Mac and his teammates won Gate City’s first state boys basketball championship. In the process, Mac also became the states all time single season scoring champion and the states career all time scoring champion. He also broke the record for points scored in a state final breaking J.J. Redicks record. One tiny guy with a dream….and he won the hearts of literally millions.
So if in the near future you see Mac McClung coming off a loss in a Big East or NCAA Tourney game…..and he is at the podium with his head coach Patrick Ewing and a question is asked of him that goes like this…”Question for Mac McClung….Mac… can Georgetown win another national championship during your time as a Hoya?” If the wavy haired, ultra competitive Mac gives you a stare and answers with nothing but an emphatic blunt and simple, “Yes”… just know one thing baby….. it’s on. Lord almighty…will it be on.