Sergio McClain has set a standard of excellence his whole life. Since he was a player in grade school he has won championships, part of the historic Peoria Manual team which won four state championships consecutively, and a Big Ten championship with the University of Illinois at Champaign. Those accomplishments as a player doesn’t diminish the stellar resume he has amassed as a coach. With stints at Parkland Community College, Champaign Central High School, Dade Christian School and some Semi Pro experience, when an opening for the head coach position at the University of Illinois became available and Sergio expressed his interest in the position it wouldn’t be long before an over zealous journalists painted Sergio as an “unqualified villain”. I got the opportunity to speak with Sergio and was amazed at the humility that he possesses and his dedication to success. While Sergio didn’t get the head coaching position, an assistant position still is open at the University of Illinois and with the relationships that Sergio has built it would make perfect sense for the Fighting Illini to have Sergio on their short list. You can’t mention IHSA basketball without mentioning the McClain name and now Sergio is aiming for the same assistant position at U of I that his father once held. Sergio has forged relationships with high school coaches all over the county and could be the key to the Fighting Illini returning to its former glory days.
Your father was legendary basketball coach Wayne McClain, what were some of the lessons he passed on to you?
Well, where to start? He taught me a lot on and off the court. I think the biggest correlations between basketball and life are that everyday is an opportunity to get better at your craft. If you take days off there are people who are working and getting better and when its time to get a job the person who has done the work will get it. Playing basketball growing up I didn’t take days off, my day off was Sunday and I still would practice. That’s how I developed a winning mentality to become the best player in the State of Illinois in 1997.
When did you develop a passion for basketball?
I developed a passion for basketball at Webster School during Head Start at 5 or 6 because we had a gym recess. We had a miniature hoop that had an iron base. I started shooting on that and did it for the whole gym period. Everyone said I was going to follow in my dads footsteps I didn’t know what they meant. In 5th and 6th grade I was in a mini basketball league. I wasn’t a natural and had to work really hard.
Can you speak about the biggest influences as far as coaches that contributed to you develop your game?
My coach in grade school Mr. Powers at Roosevelt Magnet he had confidence in me as a captain and in 5th grade I was playing with 7th and 8th graders. I transferred to Christ Lutheran in 8th grade where we won a City Championship they were known for traveling and producing great players like Mike Robinson. I played for the winningest coach in IHSA history being Dick Van Syoc and of course my dad. Also at the University of Illinois I had the privilege of playing under Lon Krueger, Bill Self, and Joey Meyer.
You were highly recruited out of high school and named Mr. Basketball in Illinois, why did you choose the University of Illinois?
I chose the University out of loyalty. You look around during that time a lot of Mr. Basketballs were staying in their states. Dean Oliver in Iowa, Luke Recker in Indiana, and Baron Davis at UCLA. At that particular time a lot of the best players in the country were trying to build their states back up as powerhouses. Illinois came and asked me to come over and rebuild. I could have easily gone to North Carolina but was loyal to my state.
You actively campaigned for the University of Illinois job, do you think you are a more qualified candidate than Brad Underwood?
Everybody has their routes to get where they are. Am I saying I’m more qualified? No. It’s all about opportunities and he is a fierce competitor and his teams play hard nose basketball. I would love to pick his brain to see what he has learned that I haven’t. My statements that I made before where as a group of ex alumni who are ready to see our own in their running the reigns to our own state. We haven’t been able to recruit in our own state. Sherron Collins, Julian Wright, Sean Dockery are just some of the names of players we’ve lost because we didn’t have the relationships and trust.
Who are the top five players to come out of Illinois in your opinion?
Honestly, I can’t answer that question. The relationships I have if I omit someone it could lead to someone not speaking to me for a while. I will say I feel you have to put it into categories. Scorers, winners, who are the best defenders, shot blockers, and all around players. It’s hard to say because you’ve only been around a certain era and you can’t speak on the era before you.
You operate a non profit called the 217309 Pipeline can you tell me about it?
I changed the name to the Wayne McClain Foundation because he was the only supporter of my vision. The program focuses on after school activities, free tutoring, exercise programs based around aerobics and aesthetics.
Whats next for Sergio McClain?
Whatever God has for me that is mine. I’m going to continue fighting to get into the college ranks. I know my relationships whether they believe or see it. Its some openings right now at Illinois. My biggest focus is my son who is a freshman. Everything my father has given me I’m trying to give to him. I’m a family man and just want to see my family grow and prosper. I love the game of basketball and will be an influence in this game.