If there’s anyone who can give Bruce Weber a touch of first-hand knowledge on Bill Self, it’s going to be Wayne McClain.
He’s the guy in chair No. 1 … the far right … on the K-State bench, who serves as Director of Student-Athlete Development for the K-State basketball program.
That’s a position that McClain describes as “… one where I just try to help the guys make good decisions. That could mean making sure they guys are in class, to a little bit of counseling and career planning … just helping with decision making situations when necessary.”
But McClain quickly adds, “This is just a great group of guys. A lot of time you have to motivate guys to be students, but this group has been refreshing. They are self-motivators and very much into reaching their goals.”
Now back to McLain’s connection with Self.
A legendary coach and Dean of Students out of Manual High School in Peoria, Ill., it was Self who noted McClain’s four straight state championships and offered him a position on his Illini staff.
Then when Weber replaced Self at Illinois, the decision was easy to retain McClain, and later promote him to Associate Head Coach for three years from 2010-2012.
Of the two coaches he spent a total of 11 years with from 2002-2012, McClain says, “Bill was a fastball pitcher. Here it is … see if you can beat us, and he is successful at what he does. This is what we’re going to do, and we’re going to do it well.
“Bruce is equally effective, but is a little different every game depending on who you’re going to play,” said McClain. “He gears things to what team he’s going to play.”
McClain and Weber first got acquainted when he was holding 6 a.m. practices at Manual High School where he coached from 1977-2001, with the last seven of those seasons as head coach.
“At that hour in the morning, there Bruce would be recruiting for Purdue,” said McClain, who was the 1997 National High School Coach of the Year, and owner of a 94-5 record in the three years he coached the Rams to state titles in 1995, ‘96 and ‘97.
McClain also had an association with K-State icon Lon Kruger when he was coaching at Illinois prior to Self’s arrival in 2002.
On that team was Sergio McClain, a three-time
All-State selection and Mr. Basketball in 1977, who helped his dad to his state titles before attending Illinois.
While Kruger opted not to hire McClain, in retrospect he says, “It turned out well. Bill Self came along, Serg had graduated, and he (Self) did hire me. That made me feel good because it was really on my own merit and not a situation where I was being hired to be a package deal with my son.”
Today McClain says, “I’m a better coach today than when I left Peoria Manual just from getting different views from some very good coaches. It’s allowed me to grow as a coach.”
When Weber was let go after the 2012 season at Illinois, that meant his No. 1 assistant was out of a job as well. During the last year on the bench of the Illini, he was the longest tenured assistant coach in the Big Ten.
Once Weber was hired at K-State, McClain knew one thing for sure: “I knew K-State was getting a very quality coach. He’s a guy who knows basketball … a great X and O coach … and a coach with a lot of credibility. He does things the right way.
“How many coaches can say they’ve coached in the Final Four?” asked McClain. “He’s a proven winner.”
The footprint of Illinois was home to McClain, and at first he wasn’t sure he would make the move to Kansas with Weber, or, whether he would remain in coaching at all. Eventually, he joined Weber as a Wildcat.
“I can’t coach in this position, but it allows me to stay competitive in the game,” said McClain. “While I’m not on the practice floor, I can talk to coach about what I see, plus I can help with scouts.”
And, whether in Illinois or Kansas, and whether it’s with teenage high school student-athletes or those in their early-20s, he says, “What I get out of each experience is very much the same. Coaching them and trying to relate to them is very much the same.
“At times you wonder if you’re getting through to them, or you catching yourself second guessing yourself on how you handled a situation, but then out of the blue you get an e-mail from one of them years later and they’re thanking you for something,” said McClain. “No matter what level you’re on, you’re teaching boys how to be men.”