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From Gate City, VA, to the NBA
Mac McClung grew up playing basketball in Gate City, VA (population 1,869), about 30 minutes from where I lived in the mountains of Tennessee. Gate City was a smaller school than Elizabethton, so we never played them. But basketball is a small world, my kids were playing in the same tournaments as he was, so we know a lot of the same people.
I saw him in the gym at tournaments from time to time, but I never met Mac. When my youngest signed a volleyball scholarship at Georgetown, Mac was on a basketball scholarship there. It’s amazing that Georgetown had two athletes from the same remote area at the same time.
Mac was insanely competitive, even as a small child. His father described his obsession with competition like this: “Mac was just born with it. If you’re fixing a bowl of cereal, he’s going to make a competition.” Once he found basketball, that’s all he ever wanted to do. His high school coach talked about the creation of the ultimate gym rat: “He ducked his head inside for a minute and basically never left.”
An opposing coach once yelled at him from the sideline, “You’re goin’ to Georgetown to sit!” (you can see it at the 2:00 mark of the video in this link). Mac responded by scoring 44 points with lots of assists, leading his team to a 70-67 victory over a superior team. He broke most of the basketball records in the state of Virginia (which had been held by Allen Iverson and J.J. Reddick before), while thrilling crowds with his impossible dunks. It didn’t seem possible that such a little kid could get that high. But he just kept scoring, and kept winning, and off to Georgetown he went.
He was successful there, but after half the Georgetown basketball team was arrested, the other half left, so McClung took his talents to Texas Tech. Most people thought his remarkable basketball career was over. But not only did he make the NBA development league, he won Rookie of the Year in that league (See highlight video below). His success there led to a contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. And then, he made the news yesterday when he won the NBA Slam Dunk competition at the All-Star Game. This is extraordinary, because Mac is small (maybe 6 feet), white, and from a small, poor, coal-mining community in southern Appalachia.
His local hero status went up even more this weekend at the NBA Slam Dunk competition, when he paused before his final dunk to put a Gate City jersey on over his 76ers jersey. He then won the competition, and the crowd went wild. You should watch the video below. You really should.
Can he have a successful NBA career? The odds are obviously against him. So probably not.
But I wouldn’t tell Mac that.
NBA Slam Dunk Competition:
NBA Development League Rookie of the Year Highlight Reel:
.Published in General
So much for White Men Can’t Jump. Awesome story!!
This is the only post that you have ever written where the subject is something I don’t care about. It doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the writing but rather the simple fact that I can’t care about sportsball.
Quite literally I’ve enjoyed everything else you have ever posted. Strange how we are incapable of being fascinating by some things but other things fascinate to the point of madness.
Maybe if he somehow was able to mix sex robots into the story it would have piqued your interest. There’s billions of things in this world that aren’t interesting. I don’t find that fascinating.
It’s weird to see a white guy playing for Georgetown. Is he the Jackie Robinson of Georgetown?
Very cool, but it is sad that the top stars don’t compete in that anymore.
Woo-hoo! All of Appalachia must be screaming. Awesome, Mac.
He did a 720 while dunking and only 6 feet? Sounds like a deep-fake to me…
Pretty good for a short tall guy. He’ll probably do well even if he doesn’t end up in the pros.
Have to think he can parlay this into some endorsements, etc. His story should sell.
Disney will race-swap him, of course.
And make him a golfer?
With a cute animal companion.
At his last “wellness examination,” the examiner told my dad that she was going to give him three words at the beginning and wanted him to give them the same three words back at the end.
“The three words are ‘book’, ‘flag’, and ‘tree.'”
“What a coincidence,” Dad said. “Those are the same three words they gave me last year.”
If you wonder how on earth anybody could be that athletic, he comes from an athletic family.
His father played football at Virginia Tech, and his mother was a cheerleader there. His uncle played Major League baseball. His sister is the leading goal scorer in Virginia High School history, and played soccer at Florida State and Tennessee.
So he got some athletic genes, no question.
But he also knows how to work, obviously.
It’s terrific that he applied himself to building on his gifts.
Wow, I’m not even a sports fan, but I watched both videos to the end. He might even turn me into a basketball fan! There’s actual beauty in the way he plays, which even I can appreciate.
This kid may make me a basketball fan again.
I was in grad school at NC State when Spud Webb played for our team. He was only 5’6″ (officially listed as 5’7″), but won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest one year:
Mac’s theme music should be Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music . . .
That was awesome! Unbelievable!
Yes, but his arms were 4′ long. ;-)
He’s a true point guard – who can score. They are terrific to watch in college and one of the big reasons that college hoops is better than pro. Pro guards are basically 2 guards who bring the ball up the court so somebody can go 1 on 1. And that doesn’t even mean much when you have 7 footers bring the ball up court, then shoot a deep three. A point guard who understands the game plan and his teammates can literally cause his team to score.
I hope he can succeed in the pros.
The dunk contest was perfect for Mac because it showcased a skill that he has developed since high school. He may find a spot on someone’s bench, but, with all respect to the many positive comments here, it hasn’t happened yet and may well not.
So true Hoyacon. I got to enjoy a few outstanding point guards who played for my alma mater, but they had pretty limited pro careers. Got to be able to consistently drop pro three pointers (without getting it pushed back in your face.) Ultimately they struggle on the defensive end. As Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb did in the “no zone defense” pro game. No surprise that players keep getting bigger. Magic Johnson was A freakishly tall (and gifted) point guard in his day at 6’7″. Pretty common now.
Mac is “listed at” 6 foot 2, but I’ve stood next to him, and I’m not even sure he’s 6 feet tall. Trying to defend guards who are 6 inches taller than him (and just as quick) will be tough.
NBA games are basically 3 point shooting contests now. He’s been trying to change from a slash & drive kamakazee to a catch & shoot bomber. He’s also improved his passing a lot.
But the college game obviously matched his skill set better.
On the other hand, I’ve given up betting against him…
I also doubt that he’s as tall as listed. Oddly enough, one of the issues that he faces is he’s getting “ old” in basketball terms. With players leaving early, teams are looking for 19-21 year olds as their developmental players.
Mugsy was a terror on the defensive end. He was so short nobody could see him and he got a lot of steals that way. Hard to post up because he was so low to the ground and got great leverage. He wasn’t a very good shooter but a great distributor. Played on some real good Charlotte teams with Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson. Played 10 years in the league and here’s a random stat. He had 39 career blocked shots. Imagine getting your shot swatted away by a 5’3 guy.
Magic was amazing. He could (and did) play any position on the court . . .
Maybe the coaches should watch Rudy . . .