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SHOWCASE: The Reasons Behind Mac McClung’s Departure?

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Xavier v Georgetown Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Well, yesterday, Georgetown Hoyas fans were shocked by the news that Mac McClung was withdrawing from the NBA Draft and planning to transfer.

McClung, himself, told ESPN that “It was a number of different events that made me feel I had no choice but to transfer from Georgetown.”

The Washington Post had a nice article that featured a quote from McClung’s agent, Daniel Hanzan of Hazan Sports Management:

The feedback that he got from [NBA] teams was that they wanted to see him facilitating more ... Being more of a point guard role, etc. I’m not saying he couldn’t have gotten that at Georgetown, but he didn’t showcase that at Georgetown. He didn’t get the opportunity really to showcase that. He was playing off the ball.

This is unfortunate to read for several reasons. At best, it shows, a disagreement between the guard and the head coach on how to succeed strategically and win basketball games. At worst, it demonstrates a disconnect between a coach and his players, and a failure of Patrick Ewing to appreciate how recruiting players of similar positions may affect the outlook of current players and recruits.

For instance, the 3-star former Rutgers-commit announced his intent to come to Georgetown on October 15, 2017 and then Ewing successfully pursued the 97th ranked recruit, a point guard from California, James Akinjo, who committed in April 2018. Guards Jagan Mosely and Jahvon Blair were already on Ewing’s squad, but Trey Dickerson and Jonathan Mulmore graduated. The next season, Ewing brought in graduate transfer and ball distribution engineer, Terrell Allen to mix in with McClung, Akinjo, Mosely, and Blair.

McClung, never a stranger to competition, had a whole summer of Kenner League games where he played with Akinjo. It was pretty clear Ewing planned to have two undersized point guards playing at the same time.

It didn’t work and Akinjo transferred, presumably because of McClung’s large scoring role. After Akinjo’s departure, and Mosely and Allen’s graduations, one would think that Ewing and McClung would sit down and talk about his role moving forwards.

Only McClung and Ewing know if that discussion happened—and one might think each would remember it differently—but fans can look at results. Namely, Ewing recruited many guards and received commitments from Arkansas graduate transfer Jalen Harris (PG), along with freshmen Tyler Beard (PG), Dante Harris (PG), T.J. Berger (CG), and Kobe Clark (G/F). That’s a lot of guards incoming. But everyone knew this was McClung’s team.

Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic agrees that McClung would still have been the lead dog:

Perhaps the opportunity to run the show became more important to McClung than sheer scoring volume. It would be a reasonable concern for his long-term future.

Still, there is no world in which McClung could have been worried about his usage rate. He would have been, by far, next season’s best and most important Hoya, not only because of his own scoring and experience but also kind of by default.

It’s hard to believe that any of the new guys merited minutes at the expense of Mac, but perhaps there was indeed a role confusion with the influx. In particular, Jalen Harris was brought in to be a pass-first facilitator for Mac McClung (and Qudus Wahab and Jamorko Pickett). Tyler Beard has shown the ability to score and facilitate with very talented teammates. Dante Harris is an attack-first scorer who is accustomed to having the ball in his hands. The newly committed T.J. Berger is smart, a coach’s son, and can shoot. Kobe Clark is a guard in a wing’s body. Still, they were brought in to support his scoring and back him up.

But did McClung make his point guard ambitions known to Ewing before the staff reloaded the backcourt? Maybe. If Mac McClung ever wanted to be a distributing point guard, his actions on the court did not quite support that. Gate City’s finest always seemed to embrace the “shooting” in “shooting guard.”

McClung readily admitted before testing the draft waters that he needed to work on his “decision-making and shot selection.” With deficiencies in those key areas, what support was there for Ewing to give him more run as the true point guard? Put another way, McClung has shown that he can attack and shoot aggressively like a two-guard, but when has McClung shown an ability to facilitate and distribute?

So when an agent says “he didn’t showcase (the point guard role) at Georgetown,” does his client mean he wants to get 6 assists per game like Terrell Allen (or even Akinjo) or is the client really just asking for the ball to be in his hands more often and 10 more deep field goal attempts per game?

Let’s not rewrite history to say that McClung was forced to play out of his natural position for his 40 uninjured games in blue, gray, or teal.

McClung’s agent seems to think his client’s P&R ability is a selling point. Re-watching his highlights, Mac McClung may have thrived running the pick-and-roll this year with Wahab, and maybe Ewing could have put him in a few more pick-and-roll situations to help him get a step or a mismatch in the past. But, again, if McClung didn’t settle for 12-foot jumpshots, maybe more screens would have been called by Ewing? Significant dedication to “decision-making and shot selection” may likely have come from Ewing’s feedback to McClung.

Lastly, even if McClung’s shooting guard position is not preferred, Ewing’s fast-paced three-guard offense required plenty of ball-handling. More than likely, Ewing had McClung in the right position, based on his scorer’s mentality (and his defense). Playing off-ball in college doesn’t mean you’re not a point guard or you can’t run the P&R. Under what delusion was running “Iverson Cuts” for a 6-foot shooter to get clean looks a bad idea for the kid’s professional prospects?

Both Jagan Mosely and Jahvon Blair were point guards in high school who played significant 2- and 3-guard under Ewing. Many teams are doing it. Even James Akinjo finds himself in a three-headed monster in Arizona. If McClung is looking for a team where he is the only guard (and primary scoring option), good luck. The transfer may be more of an optical separation than a functional one, e.g., for purposes of McClung’s rebranding as a Point Guard. Personally, I think his prospective pro path is closer to SG J.J. Redick than PG Mark Price.

Still, the latter part of McClung’s rationale is perhaps a little more troubling for the Georgetown alumni and fans—”I’m looking for a place I can call home. A place I can be a part of a family and help them succeed.” One might infer that Georgetown lacked a family atmosphere. Admittedly, such a statement cuts a bit deeper than a mere declaration as a born again point guard. Ewing likely has to reevaluate how he handles his team in wake of McClung’s news and this is a good place to start.

It’s clearly too late to keep McClung at Georgetown, but it behooves Ewing to be even more honest and communicative with his remaining team, especially the four freshmen guards. Regardless of the distractions, having McClung’s work ethic and will-to-win around may have been the best case for the future Hoyas teams. Now, Ewing needs to encourage leadership, define roles, and find points early in the season or Ewing may risk losing more than just basketball games.

Or just lie like the other recruiters.