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Opinion: time to end the polarized expectations around Mac McClung

You should err on the side of caution whether you are optimistic or pessimistic towards the newest Red Raider.

Georgetown v Villanova Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

This has been one of the busiest off-seasons for Texas Tech Basketball that I can remember. The recruitment of high school stars Nimari Burnett, Micah Peavy, and Chibuzo Agbo Jr. is nearing it’s end as they are weeks away from officially becoming Red Raiders. Jahmi’us Ramsey decided to enter his name in the NBA Draft, and we still don’t even know if it’s staying there. Two high-profile transfers were added to the team in Jamarius Burton and Marcus Santos-Silva. There was the departures of young players Russel Tchewa and Andrei Savrasov. The unexpected and heart-breaking (but understandable) decision from Davide Moretti to go play pro hoops in Italy. This was all capped off by the addition of one of the most popular transfers ever, Georgetown’s Mac McClung.

Providence v Georgetown Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

McClung made his name known in high school when he captivated the nation with his high-flying dunks. Throwing down alley-oops, windmills, and double-clutch dunks, it’s no surprise his high school mix-tapes gained millions of views. He played two years of college ball at Georgetown when he initially submitted his name into the NBA Draft and later decided to transfer. When McClung announced Texas Tech was in his Final 7 transfer destinations, saying I was skeptical of him would’ve been an understatement. I wasn’t a fan of his defense and his shooting numbers scared me. A lot. The more I found myself criticizing parts of McClung’s game, the more a certain reminder crept into my head.

I did not recruit him. Chris Beard recruited him.

I’m a guy who watches a lot of college basketball. It’s my favorite sport in the entire world. But if I ever, even for a second, think that I see something Chris Beard hasn’t, I am deeply mistaken. Chris Beard is a mastermind. He’s the mastermind. He clearly wanted McClung as a Red Raider, so I put my inexperienced opinion aside, and I hopped on the McClung train.

When you’re talking about someone who has nearly 700,000 more Instagram followers than the official Texas Tech Men’s Basketball profile (not a typo), there’s obviously going to be plenty of talking about him. The issue I have surrounding the discussions of McClung’s decision to come to Texas Tech is the wide ranging spectrum of opinions. Some of the fan-base think he’s the saving grace of Texas Tech Basketball, some think he’ll shoot his way out of Lubbock. The truth about the situation is you don’t need to pick a side. You can sit perfectly in the middle.

The timeline shows McClung’s recruitment to Texas Tech was heavily influenced by the anticipated departure of Davide Moretti, as his commitment came just 4 days after Moretti signed with an overseas agent.

The loss of Moretti is massive. Due to the over-emphasis some fans have placed on late-game misses at the free throw line, I think he’ll be one of the most underappreciated Red Raiders ever. His efficiency at times was borderline robotic. In conference play during the 2018-2019 season, Davide Moretti shot 53% on FGA, 53% on 3PA, and 93% on FTA in 33.3 minutes played per game. When you lose someone like that, it can only be described - to use metaphor - as a “bullet-wound”. This is leading Texas Tech fans to think McClung is either going to be the “band-aid” or the “world class surgeon” for that wound.

Kansas State v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

You can end the claim that McClung is a “band-aid” with one sentence: Chris Beard wanted him. Sure - you are going to have successes and failures on the recruiting trail - but Chris Beard has an eye for talent. Whatever he saw in McClung that convinced him to give up a very valuable scholarship spot is going to be worth it. I understand the concerns surrounding his FG% and defensive. I have them too. But when you watch the tape, you’ll see that McClung’s low percentages came from taking some questionable shots. His motor often took over on defense, causing him to over-attack and leave his man. So now we’re left with two big question marks about his play: Can the shot selection improve, and can he play more disciplined defense? Those should seem like two very silly questions by now. Mark Adams is the greatest defensive mind in basketball and Chris Beard’s focus on mentality is what has transformed this program. So that leaves one final question in ensuring that Mac McClung is not just a band-aid: will he be willing to make the adjustments suggested by the coaching staff? Many pointed to his relationship issues with Georgetown HC Patrick Ewing as a resource to show McClung doesn’t want to be coached. I figured there was no one better to clear the air than a former coach.

Shannon Boy, on staff with Gate City (VA) High School’s basketball team, called McClung “the ultimate competitor.” He explained a situation where a teammate told McClung he was slacking before a state semifinal game. “Mac didn’t take offense,” he told me, “he thrived off that.” Anyone who’s watched McClung play hoops knows he plays with a huge edge and a ton of confidence. Sometimes it’s seen as a tool, but others have worried it may interfere with his ability to be coached. When I asked Coach Boy if McClung had a big ego, I thought he responded perfectly, “Not trying to be a smart ass at all, but if you didn’t have a big ego or an ego of some sort would you have the confidence to pull off being 6’2 and have a 48 inch vertical?” I asked if that ego was a liability for coaches. “Coach Scott Vermillion couldn’t have asked for a better leader,” he said proudly, “[Mac McClung] was serious but he could be a cut up. If the tension was tight, Mac would make a comment that would lighten the mood and make everyone laugh.”

Mac McClung is not a perfect replacement for Davide Moretti. Moretti had professional experience before coming to Texas Tech then had 3 years in Chris Beard’s system. You don’t just find a replacement for a guy like that. But that’s not what the commitment of McClung was intended to do. Mac McClung is at Texas Tech to be Mac McClung. Whatever that ends up looking like, enjoy it. It may take some time, but in the end it will work. Coach Boy painted a great picture, “If it looks like Mac may be having an off night and somebody says [he’s] getting killed out there...anyone who knows Mac [is] going to say ‘he’s not getting killed, he is getting mad’ and that’s when you watch out because the knockout blow is coming.”

This article was not written to tell you not to have an opinion about McClung. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have one. This is to encourage you to moderate and control your opinion either way you land. If you have extremely high expectations, you’re going to suffer during the inevitable adjustment period McClung is going to go through as he learns Chris Beard’s scheme. If you have extremely low expectations, you’ll be overly-critical and never enjoy his progress. Allow your expectations to be balanced. Always hope for the best. Give him space to grow, develop, and adjust.

Coach Boy wanted to ensure we knew who McClung really was. “Mac isn’t just about winning,” Boy assured me, “He is about family. If he knows the love is real, it will be reciprocated and his loyalty is yours forever.” Sounds like a Chris Beard kind of guy to me.