By Tim Chambers
Hiring former Hampton High School basketball standout player and head coach Mark McClain to head up its boys’ middle school basketball program was like taking a page out of the movie “Hoosiers.” The school system got a “Norman-Dale” type coach that will turn out fundamentally sound players like Jimmy Chitwood for Coach Austin Atwood and his high school basketball program.
McClain played four years of varsity basketball for the Bulldogs that began in 1991-1992 and lasted through 1995. He had a season-high 35 points against West Greene as a senior.
McClain went on to coach the Bulldogs for three seasons from 2004-2005 through the 2006-2007 season. He had a winning record his last two years and complied more than 50 wins. His team made it to the Class a sub-state game in 2006 after runner-up finishes in the District and Regional. He later went on to play his college baseball at Tusculum University.
McClain chose to enter the law enforcement field after giving up teaching and coaching and stayed in that capacity for 12 years. He touched on his reason for coming back.
“I’ve really missed being a head coach over the years, so the opportunity to get back into it just kind of presented itself here and I’m super excited about the chance that has been given to me by this administration. I’m impressed with what I’ve seen so far.”
McClain has been with the team for most of the summer after having more than 40 students attend tryouts. He said that was the toughest part about the job so far.
“We kept 20 players, ten seventh, and ten eighth graders. We have a lot of talented kids up here starting with Conner Simcox who has a chance to be special. We’ve got some catching up to do fundamentally, but I feel like this group can get where they need to be for us to be successful.”
McClain spent the past three years as the assistant girl’s coach at Little Milligan helping his wife Melissa who is the girls’ head coach. He knows the importance of teaching kids how to play the game of basketball the right way.
“You want your middle school coach to be good at teaching fundamentals, and I always felt that way, even as a high school coach. You want your kids to be able to develop a good shot, know how to help on defense, and understand what ball side is all about. You want them to have a good understanding of what to expect when they move over as a freshman to play high school.”
McClain has already spoken to high school head coach Austin Atwood about what he would like to see from the middle school kids when they move up in the ranks.
“Johnson County has two of the best high school
basketball coaches you can find in Coach Atwood and Coach Leon Tolley. I’ve
had a ton of respect for
both of them. I’m hoping
my players compete and play hard because I want them to have some success here and at the high school level. The middle school program needs to be a good feeder system for the high school teams. My goal is to try and develop them.”
The middle school Longhorns were able to attend one basketball camp earlier in the summer. McClain knows his group is making strides.
“My players have worked hard over the summer, and I’ve already started to see improvement. We had a rough camp at King College, but the kids keep getting better with every practice. I’m looking forward to getting started, and hopefully, I can learn some things from Austin and Leon too. We’re all in this thing together.”
McClain will be teaching in the ESC program.