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Talking Mac McClung with Casual Hoyas

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Get to know McClung from the experts who knew him best.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Mac McClung’s decision to join Chris Beard and Texas Tech has sparked some debate regarding his abilities to transition to a slower tempo, defensive-minded program. Naturally I believed it would be best to reach out to Georgetown experts and get their pulse on the situation.

Below is a transcript of my interview with Philadelphia Hoyas (@PhillyHoyas) over Mac McClung’s athleticism, defense, commitment, and more. A huge thank you to the Casual Hoyas group for their willingness to answer my questions at length!

(Macon): Everyone has seen the crazy dunks so without factoring that in, what is the best part of Mac’s game?

(Philly Hoyas) Who? Just kidding. Thanks for inviting the Casual Hoya crew to discuss Matthew “Mac” McClung. Hoyas fans may want to forget McClung right now but the biggest part to his game, and perhaps the reason he won’t be easily forgotten, may be his will to win. That was evident in both his in-game efforts and his noted work ethic. Fans saw a lot of potential in him because of his determination. Ewing has called him a “gym rat” on multiple occasions—putting up shots all hours of the day, and his free throw numbers showed a nice bump. He is a student of the game and presumably flew himself out to work out with Drew Hanlan last summer and improve his shooting form. McClung and I discussed changes in his diet and weight room approach in an interview at BIG EAST Media Day, last October, he conveyed how his strategy helped him get a little leaner and quicker. From everything we‘ve seen and heard, no one will out-work him, no one will give more effort than he does. He goes hard and dives and fights, and might lead the league in times ending up on the floor, for better or worse. He’s a competitor.

(Macon): There have been some concerns that Mac is not a tough enough defensive player to survive in Chris Beard’s system. Are the concerns over his defense warranted, or overblown?

(PH) Many will say that Mac McClung is god awful on defense, but I’m not one of them. He merely just stinks a little. Hell, I’ve certainly called him a matador more than once! His biggest issues are playing off-ball—from time to time he might watch the ball too much and lose his man. I think he cheats off his man more than others in order to try to get a steal and a breakaway dunk. Those dunks can really turn the momentum when they pay off, but they’re few and far between in our conference. Allen Iverson’s gambling for steals earned him BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, twice, but unfortunately McClung is not that level of quick.

McClung was generally not the opponent’s biggest match-up to exploit, but he typically did not fare well against bigger perimeter shooters, like against Villanova or Creighton. Georgetown’s help-defense on screens has been abysmal under Ewing, so McClung guarding the shooting guard usually necessitated him to slough off of his man and gravitate too far from the perimeter. My late father hated seeing McClung constantly play with his hands down, assuming Mac thought he was quick enough to get them up in time when the pass came around. Again, he’s not AI.

One-on-one, Mac seems to defend well enough. He was never asked to guard the top guy, but GU had better defenders up to the challenge. Maybe Mac guarding the point guard can keep him focused, but I’d suggest testing it against early preseason teams. This is all to say that he clearly has the discipline to work on his game, I believe he has enough foot-speed, and if a coach convinces him to work within a solid defensive system, he probably won’t be the weakest link on that end of the floor and might be a plus.

(Macon) The thought is Mac largely left Georgetown to pursue a role as a PG and facilitator, how much work do you think he needs to do to get to a point where he can handle that role?

(PH) Respectfully, one can’t just declare that one is a point guard when one’s body of work indicates passing is one’s fourth favorite option as a ball-handler. McClung needs a fair amount of work and focus to become a legitimate facilitator. Even before the “testing the draft waters” phase of April, McClung proudly announced his off-season focus was to improve “shot selection and decision making.” It sounds like the NBA scout interviews echoed that sentiment. If he had stayed at Georgetown, his aggressiveness needed to tone down quite a bit and his assists would naturally rise—regardless of his position. I don’t like the idea of rewriting history to say that Ewing never let McClung play point guard when Mac showed zero evidence of having a pass-first bone in his body. The question is whether McClung now wants to have the ball in his hands to begin every possession in the effort to truly facilitate or just to get more shots up.

Mac has shown he can pass well when he chooses. He does have a nice highlight reel of no-look dishes and can elevate as well as anyone for driving kick-outs to the perimeter. The SMU game showed great ball movement last December (after GU’s first wave of transfers) and McClung was a big part of it with a handful of nice assists. Why he wasn’t a consistent passer at other times, post-departure of former backcourt mate James Akinjo, is anyone’s guess. Maybe Ewing asked him to be super-aggressive (e.g., even more than the Kemba Walker comparison) or maybe McClung didn’t trust his teammates, but there were plenty of times where Mac had the ball and Hoyas fans all knew no pass was coming and his next shot was as good as a turnover.

It’s going to take a lot of work to rewire his brain, but if McClung sees wins as a result he might be able to stick to it.

(Macon) What is the most underrated aspect of Mac’s game?

(PH) I don’t think there’s much to Mac McClung that is under-the-radar. He’s an internet sensation who has become a famous college basketball player able to command a presence with young fans. He is polite, well-spoken, hard working and goal-oriented. His 48” vertical is out of this world. He can put the ball through the hoop a variety of ways. He happens to be Caucasian.

His quick first step might be the most underrated part of his game. It’s certainly under-discussed. Opponents underestimate it. It might just be the same leg muscles that let him elevate, but, when he makes a decisive move to the basket, he can get to that next level of the defense fairly easily. Now, I think he stops short for a jumper too often, and occasionally loses body control and fails to draw a foul, but his best ability to score in bunches comes from a balance of pulling defenders closer when he’s shooting well and then being able to get that step on them. Again, it’s a quality likely best utilized as someone who plays off-ball, if I were a college basketball coach.

(Macon) Mac is stepping into, assuming he manages to defeat the NCAA’s random waiver process, a Tech team that has national championship aspirations. Do you think Mac will take Tech to that next level, or do you think he would’ve fit in with another of his suitors better?

(PH) I think that’s why he chose Texas Tech, right? To be on TBS in March. Or was it the Big 12’s ESPN contract, built-in Instagram fans from Power 5 football, and/or a secret Under Armour endorsement deal coming any day now? Kidding again. But not really.

McClung’s transfer comments stung quite a bit, but I have no doubt he genuinely wanted to find a team that had tangible tournament goals. If the question is “can he help?” the answer is a definite yes. I understand Texas Tech needs some perimeter help, and Mac is capable of turning the corner on his shooting and getting closer to 39% from three. If the question is “does replacing someone with McClung improve Texas Tech’s chances of winning?” I don’t know. I can’t honestly say that he makes everyone on the court better. He’s a scorer. He can will baskets. He can gain momentum. He can wear defenders out. I don’t know if he can play within a disciplined offensive system. The potential is certainly there, but more than a couple of Georgetown’s best wins in the past two years, and most fluid offensive games, came while he was in street clothes on the bench.

McClung’s other suitors may have been able to offer him a larger share of field goal attempts, but he probably did his homework on system fit before his “commitment” to Texas Tech. Right? That was on the virtual tour and zoom calls? Even without an unsure off-season and season, I don’t know if there’s enough game experience to get him to be the “floor general” of a Final Four caliber team. I understand he wants to do one year and then go to the NBA, but his best chances might be to sit out a year, practice in the system, and find his new role.

(Macon) Having a player transfer is always tough, but on occasion the split really leaves a sour taste in the mouth depending on how it was handled or why it happened. With how/why Mac left, how is the pulse of the Hoyas? Will he be missed, or is this a burning of bridges scenario?

(PH) It is truly a mixed bag of emotions in the Hoya community, but he’s a kid so we continue to send our best wishes. I’ve always wanted to have an ex that all my friends get to stalk on TikTok.

Many fans were stunned with how quickly he turned from hero to heel, but Hoyas followers were starting to get a little sick of the circus. His premature NBA Draft testing, camera crews, and the will-he-or-won’t-he game split the fan base between Georgetown fans and Mac fans. After his initial draft announcement, fans of Mac, especially the Gate City supporters, started to take umbrage at criticism that he wasn’t quite ready for the next level or his shooting percentages were too low, and while things may have repaired if he had come back, there’s no love lost with that crowd after the defection.

I tried to be unbiased with these questions, but the truth is that being a Mac fan was exhausting. You have to remember, McClung had been injured since basically December and fans were just excited to get him back healthy. Bleacher Report seemingly randomly profiles McClung on his NBA aspirations in early March and what does he do? Mac surprises everyone by not even coming to the BIG EAST Tournament, with rumors he’s convalescing at home after a foot procedure for his plantar fasciitis.

When we first heard he’s testing the waters of the NBA Draft, we thought, “Is this for real?” “Is he healthy?” and then we finally bought in by believing he’ll benefit from hearing feedback about his shot selection from someone not named Ewing. If he had been healthy for February, fans likely would have been OK with the draft test, but with the foot injury and the coronavirus quarantines, it seemed nonsensical to think Mac was not going to be the GU roster next season. Maybe he’d accept a two-way contract and be in the G-League, but why would he transfer and risk losing a season of his career? So, yeah, Georgetown fans were counting on McClung coming back healthy to lead the team—and apparently so was Ewing per his interview with Andy Katz—and he left a big hole when he withdrew from the draft and announced he planned to transfer.

Our grapes might be extra sour because our other transfer wounds were still fresh. GU fans lost four guys in December in “The Great Defection”—two of which were named to the All-Freshman Team and were fan-favorites, now we lost all three. There were substantial rumors that James Akinjo left Georgetown because of Ewing’s encouragement of McClung as a primary scorer (along with Omer Yurtseven). Our arch-nemesis, Jim Boeheim, said Georgetown was better off without Akinjo as a selfish ball-handler after Ewing’s team got their first win against Syracuse. Hoyas fans were excited by the heart they saw, especially in McClung. The squad looked great in December, knocking off a couple undefeated teams and really moving the ball better than ever. Then the injuries happened. Whether it was his eye or foot issues—Ewing was mum as usual—Mac wasn’t dressed, the injuries drove fans nuts. As far as I’m concerned, the rest of the season showed an exceptional toughness by the team, but it was really done without McClung. Georgetown beat #19 Butler at Hinkle with only six guys and none were named Mac. The Hoyas came back against #14 Villanova to lose by one without McClung. Right now we’re not unhappy the gunner from Gate City is gone, but we’re upset it didn’t work out long enough to see Mac McClung come into his potential.

Moreover, fans were not happy with McClung’s comments to ESPN when he announced entering the transfer portal. The very fact that he felt compelled to release comments via ESPN says something. His agent’s revisionist comments were not appreciated by Hoya-faithful, especially the Ewing proponents. Not to mention, he’s given our recruiting competition another arrow in their quivers. We commend Mac on looking for a place where he can feel like family, but Georgetown prides itself on that word. Ask the Thompsons, Ewings, Mournings, and (hopefully) Mutombos. Saying that the Hoyas weren’t yet vying for a championship was one thing but implying that Georgetown lacked a familial feeling may have burned a bridge. I understand some of his quotes might be out of context or released as part of his waiver request, but he will not be re-embraced without making sincere steps to show appreciation of the Georgetown program and fans.

Our Casual Hoya blog has taken some heat recently for seemingly celebrating the program’s hurtful losses with our Hoya Madness and Hoya Sadness voting brackets. Reliving heartbreaking games is just in our DNA. These losses are especially sad because GU has an historic program, and we’ve got to take the good with the bad. We are a bit sadomasochistic. On the other hand, transfers are not celebrated and “what ifs” are not dwelled upon. McClung is the last transfer of Ewing 2018 recruiting class and Hoyas fans have no choice but to look to the future. So I guess we’ll see you guys in the tournament next year. Take care! HOYA SAXA

Thanks again to Philly Hoyas from Casual Hoya (@Casual Hoya) for the assist! Finally I want to give a more casual Hoya fan the opportunity to express his view on Mac McClung & Texas Tech. This is a brief quote from my friend, Sebabis.

(Sebabis) Mac’s a grinder, someone who desperately wants to win and tries to takeover games, but he definitely struggles to be a leader. I tend to think his defensive woes are overblown, he hustles everywhere and Tech can fix his technical issues. He also definetely has never really been a point guard, nor has shown any inclination to be so. Not sure why he left Georgetown if that really is his long term plan, but during his career he has always just been a shooter not a distributor or facilitator. Mac chose Tech for a reason, to get ready for the NBA and win a championship. If he can learn to accept his role and be a guy instead of THE guy he can really excel.

As for how we feel now that he is gone, it is a lot of numbness after all the transfers. He never really seemed like a good fit and it is not super surprising it did not work out. Georgetown’s rebuild goes well beyond Mac leaving, but this did hurt.