Mac McClung’s Underdog Story Is Building Toward The Next Act
If a movie is ever made about Mac McClung’s basketball career, he can only hope it is called “Mac McClung: A True Underdog Story.”
If that title sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it was also the tagline for the cult favorite “Dodgeball.” While McClung has a few more things to remember other than the five rules of dodgeball — “dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge,” according to Patches O’Houlihan — he was told there might be more than a few wrenches coming his way as he pursued his NBA dream.
“I think my entire life has kind of been an undrafted story,” McClung said. “I had a couple people that I really respect in the NBA game say I’m going to go undrafted and this is going to be my lane. I’m going to be counted out, I’m going to have to get it through the G League.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna do it.’”
The 23-year-old from Gate City, Virginia, is on his way.
McClung is set to make his debut with the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team this week as it attempts to make the 2023 FIBA World Cup. The U.S. (5-1) takes on Uruguay (4-2) on Thursday at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas to open second-round play, which consists of three two-game windows. The Americans travel to Colombia (2-4) on Monday for their second game.
The U.S. will go on to play home-and-home games against Uruguay, Colombia and Brazil (5-1) in Group F, with records from the first round carrying over. The next windows are in November and February, with a top-three finish in group play guaranteeing a World Cup berth.
McClung’s pro basketball story began as expected.
Following three years in college, two at Georgetown and the last at Texas Tech, McClung went undrafted in 2021. The 6-foot-2 guard instead went to the NBA G League, playing primarily for the South Bay Lakers but also with the Windy City Bulls, and was named the 2022 Rookie of the Year after posting averages of 21.7 points, 7.6 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 27 games.
He also saw action in two NBA games, one each with the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls.
“I kind of knew how frustrating it was going to be at times,” McClung said. “I was like, ‘Oh, I feel like I can help here.’ But I really just stayed the course and kept going.”
That attitude earned him a look from the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Summer League, which led to a non-guaranteed one-year contract with the defending NBA champs. McClung averaged 13.4 points, 4.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds in five Summer League games.
His play in the G League, which included two triple-doubles, and the Summer League has made McClung a bit of a talking point among hoops fans…especially considering his ability to be an occasional high-riser with emphatic dunks. But that athleticism shows in all aspects of his game. It helped him break Allen Iverson’s Virginia state high school scoring record (finishing with 1,153 as a senior) and J.J. Redick’s state championship game record (McClung had 47 to Reddick’s 43).
“He has a toughness, especially an offensive toughness, which you don’t always see in guys,” U.S. coach Jim Boylen said. “I think the biggest deal with him is he plays at full speed, every possession in every moment.”
McClung’s athleticism and competitiveness draws a lot of attention. It comes naturally from his parents; dad Marcus played football and mom Lenoir was a cheerleader, both at Virginia Tech. Marcus’ brother Seth McClung was a Major League Baseball pitcher, and his dad had two sisters who played hockey, one for Canada’s national team. Two of Mac McClung’s sisters played soccer, one finishing as the all-time goals leader in Virginia public high school history. He also has a younger brother who challenges him to basement soccer and T-ball.
“I don’t ever let him win,” McClung said with a slight chuckle. “That’s how I was raised. I was never given any wins, so I don’t let him win.”
McClung knows there is work to be done for him to earn a permanent spot on an NBA roster, whether that comes with the Warriors or with another team. He is excited to soak in knowledge from being around NBA champions and former Men’s National Team members Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and is ready to add to his game entering his second professional season.
“I’ve kind of switched my mindset, like, ‘I’m here to belong. I’m here to help,’” McClung said. “It’s an honor to be on the same floor as these guys, but I’m here to help.”
Before camp with the Warriors, McClung has work to do in his first experience with USA Basketball. Two wins in this window would put the Americans in prime position to advance to the World Cup, which is the final qualifying step for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
“It means everything,” McClung said of playing for his country. “As a little kid, it’s something you dream about. And I’m here. I’ll have this jersey hung up one day and I’ll tell my kids this was an opportunity I got to have. So I’m super-grateful.”
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.