McLean a Unique prospect
HOOSICK, N.Y. -- In the digital age we live in, YouTube videos abound for high school prospects: Videos of players showcasing different talent and abilities and clips of players doing jaw-dropping things. This is no different when you search ‘Unique McLean' and ‘basketball' together. The videos that come up show a 6-foot, 2-inch player who seemingly defies gravity when he leaves the floor.
The 16-year-old point guard's videos show glimpses of a player who doesn't just jump, but one that rises. They show dunks over players, dunks in transition, steals on defense and the ability to grab any rebound he wants to get.
The videos show one of the fastest rising prospects in the Northeast.
Now in his third year at the Hoosac School, McLean has already led the team to two New England Prepatory School Athletic Council Class D titles, and the team is 13-3 this season and rolling toward a potential Class B championship.
He has topped the 1,000-point barrier, a feat he accomplished this season, and it seems only a matter of time till he eclipses 2,000. He is the reigning Class D Player of the Year, and has a legitimate shot at the Class B award this season. He plays AAU ball for Team Scan, a New York-based team that travels to some of the premier showcases in the nation.
He has accomplished more on a basketball court than anyone could have imagined.
But he is still hungry. He still has a fire inside him to get better, a desire to be better than anyone who will ever guard him. And he is confident that his will to get better will allow him to go wherever he wants.
"I feel that I can make it to the NBA. I don't think anything can stop me right about now on the road I'm going," McLean said. "The road I'm going on right now, I think I have a chance. I have the right people with me and guiding me. I think I can make it."
The statement isn't meant to be cocky. By all accounts, McLean is as humble of a player as you can find. Rather, it's about his inherent confidence in his abilities. It's a confidence that seeps out as he plays. It's a confidence that got him noticed by Hoosac School coach Mike Foster in the first place.
It was July 2011. Foster, who is also the director of admissions at the school, was out recruiting students in New York City at an event sponsored by Inspiring Young Minds, a group that tries to find prep schools for students to attend. The event also offered a basketball showcase, something that the first-year coach was eager to see.
Foster sets the scene with three courts of action happening: A girls court, a middle school court, and a high school court.
"We are all sitting at the big kids court," Foster recalled. "I'm watching the game then, all of a sudden, it's like a fastball when you first hear it and everyone looks. We heard the rim rattle on the middle school court, and we looked over and there was Unique hanging on the rim."
McLean, not even 14 at the time, had caught Foster's attention. Talks were had after. Foster pitched the school to McLean and his mother, who wanted Unique to be in a safe and academically-sound situation. McLean went back to public school for the fall semester. By December, he was suiting up for Foster.
"It's different because it's more quiet," McLean said about the difference between the city and small-town Hoosick. "There's no people in your ear talking, no drama. It's fun, and it keeps you focused. That's what I really needed -- to focus."
And so far, the focus has clearly paid off.
MaxPreps, a website that tracks scoring averages for players across the country, has McLean's 32.3 points per game average this season as the highest amongst his sophomore class and 14th amongst every athlete tracked by the site.
But McLean isn't just a scorer. He plays the point for Hoosac, and it is something he wants to remind people.
Talking about topping 1,000 points this season, McLean said: "It was special that I got there, but I wasn't really worrying about it. I don't care about it that much. Most people are just saying...that I'm mostly a scorer. I don't think I wanted to be that, I want to be a complete player."
Part of playing point guard is finding teammates. McLean averages around five assists a game this season -- an impressive figure considering his point hauls.
"When you are scoring 32 points per game, that is hard to do," Foster said. "Some of them come late in games...but a lot of them come on the no-look drives to the basket where everyone collapses on him and he just knows that someone is standing there open."
"I'm becoming more rounded," McLean said. "I have to lead my team, make sure they are in the right places. That's what I'm going to be playing in college, so that's what I make sure I am doing all the time. I'm here to lead."
McLean describes the transition from being a scorer in his younger days to being a point guard at Hoosac as a relatively easy venture.
"It wasn't actually tough. I was always a leader, I always listened," McLean said. "I think that the [biggest] way I had to transition was my dribble, my ball handling."
And even though both McLean and Foster acknowledge the need to improve on his ball handling, McLean is still full of confidence when he gets the ball at the top of the arc.
"When I catch the ball, I feel that no one can guard me up there," McLean said. "If you take the ball from me, I must have messed up, I must have [given] it to you."
If you want to find a benchmark on how, and how quickly, McLean can improve, just look at his jump shot.
According to Foster, McLean has added 12 points to his per game total this year based solely on improving his shooting. McLean attributed the increased shooting to simply practicing.
"I just come in every day and get up 1,000, 2,000 shots," McLean said. "I make sure I am in the right motion, and when I get in the game I just have confidence. That was the big thing when I was younger, having confidence in my jump shot."
McLean is also a confident defender. While Hoosac's base defense is a 2-3 zone, when Foster makes the call to switch to man-to-man it is McLean who steps up to defend.
"He is the first one to say, when we go into man, ‘I'm taking the best player,'" Foster said. "When he has to do that, there is no question he has all the raw materials to be a very sound, strong defensive player. As one coach told me, he plays enough defense right now. But he is just a sophomore. He has two full years to develop some very important and difficult skill sets that strength and size will have a lot to say about."
McLean also has summers on the AAU circut to help his development continue.
"I love it, when you get into the AAU season, it's just family," McLean said. "You are focused back in. There are more elite players on every team. It's just fun to get on the court and play to that elite level, show your talents and what you really got."
As for McLean's next step? The sophomore is still restricted in talking to college coaches due to NCAA regulations, but offers and interest are rampant.
Heading into the year, McLean already had offers from schools like Siena, Detroit, and St. Francis (NY). But as the season has gone on, the level of schools has increased.
Now the schools have names like Baylor, Florida, Rutgers, Villanova and Cincinnati. As the year winds down and AAU season starts to heat up, the number of interested schools will only grow.
McLean, though, doesn't sweat the decision that lies ahead. Rather, he is focused on the here-and-now, confident that the future will work itself out.
"I just worry about the now, try to finish out the school year and worry about things that are right now," McLean said. "I just worry about my grades, make sure we win this title. Whatever happens after, happens. I'm not really focused on the future right now."
Hoosac will have two home games before the season ends next Saturday, both of which will be played at Hoosick Falls Central School. Hoosac plays today against MacDuffie at 2 p.m. The team fell to MacDuffie 60-52 earlier this season. Next Saturday, Feb. 22, the team will end the regular season against Winchendon, again at 2 p.m.
Geoff Smith is the Assistant Sports Editor at the Bennington Banner. He can be reached at 802-447-756, ext. 120, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @GSmith_Banner.
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