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McClain earns faith

Coach receives extension through 2020-21

By Mike Pankow

April 20, 2017

Mike Pankow/Whoosh! file photo

UIC coach Steve McClain now is slated to lead the program through the 2020-21 season .

Over the last two years, Steve McClain was relentless when throwing out the word “process.”

The Flames coach taught his players to trust the process of building a winning program and in turn, McClain earned the faith of UIC administrators in receiving a contract extension through the 2020-21 season.

When McClain was hired in 2015, his initial contract was slated to run through the end of the 2018-19 season. The extension adds two seasons to that contract.

“I want to profoundly thank UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis and Athletic Director Jim Schmidt for sharing in the vision that we have developed together for this program,” McClain said in a statement. “I am incredibly excited for the direction that we are headed in as we continue to build a winning culture here at UIC. My family and I are thankful for the commitment that has been made to us. My wife Kim, my son Dylan and I look forward to continuing to be part of something truly special right here in Chicago.”

In his first season, McClain took a mix of players from the Howard Moore regime and a slew of his own recruits and finished 5-25 overall and 3-15 in conference, finishing last in the Horizon League. Despite the record, hope was growing as freshman Dikembe Dixson was named the league’s freshman of the year.

In Year 2, McClain’s Flames improved by 12 wins, finishing 17-19 and earning the second and third national postseason wins in school history. After advancing to the Horizon League semifinals for just the third time since 2007-08, UIC accepted a bid to the College Basketball Invitational and beat Stony Brook and George Washington before falling to Coastal Carolina in the semifinals.

Despite being the youngest team in the nation, the Flames were 7-11 in league play in McClain’s second season, earning regular-season sweeps over Milwaukee, Youngstown State and Detroit. UIC finished sixth and upset No. 3 Green Bay in the Horizon League tournament in Detroit before falling to Cinderella Milwaukee in the semifinals.

UIC had a handful of honors as junior center Tai Odiase was named the Horizon’s Defensive Player of the Year and guards Tarkus Ferguson and Dominique Matthews were named to the Horizon League All-Freshman Team. Most of this was accomplished without Dixson, who tore a knee ligament early in the Flames’ 80-75 win at DePaul in December.

“Steve has done a tremendous job in resurrecting the men’s basketball program in a short amount of time,” Schmidt said in a statement. “He has laid the foundation for success with young men who are outstanding ambassadors for the team, the entire athletic department, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The growth we have seen from year one to year two under Coach McClain’s leadership was evident to everyone who saw the Flames in action this past season. We are excited to watch that evolution continue as we strive together to develop champions on the court, in the classroom and in the community.”

McClain, 179-158 as a Division I coach between Wyoming and UIC, is 22-44 in two years with the Flames, but the arrow definitely is pointing up as Dixson should be 100 percent healthy for next season along with a core of Odiase, Ferguson, Matthews, Marcus Ottey and Godwin Boahen returning.

RECRUITING UPDATE: The Flames received some bad news this week when 6-foot-9 forward Greg Eboigbodin asked for and was granted a release from his letter of intent. The University of Detroit Jesuit star has reopened his recruitment. … In an effort to fill four open scholarships, UIC made an offer to 3-star point guard Marcus Shaver Jr. of Phoenix’s Shadow Mountain High School. Coached by former NBA guard Mike Bibby, Shaver was one of the top stars of Shadow Mountain’s undefeated run to an Arizona state championship, scoring 27 points, including six 3-pointers, with seven rebounds and three assists in an 81-48 rout of Tucson Salpointe Catholic in the title game. The 6-foot-1 Shaver averaged 22.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.7 steals per game as a senior while shooting 55 percent from the field, 52 percent on 3-pointers and 85 percent on free throws. Shaver had originally signed with UC-Santa Barbara before longtime coach Bob Williams was fired.

In other recent news:
Taking it on the ‘Chin’ (4/17/17)
Shocking exodus: Santos, Kolawole, Thomas leaving (3/30/17)
CBI: Coastal Carolina 89, UIC 78: Bittersweet ending (3/23/17)
CBI: UIC 80, George Washington 71: A big helping hand (3/21/17)
CBI: UIC 71, Stony Brook 69: Fire and fury (3/17/17)
CBI PREVIEW: Forward march (3/16/17)
Surprise party: UIC gets CBI bid (3/14/17)
HORIZON TOURNEY: Milwaukee 74, UIC 68: Underdog ends Flames’ run (3/7/17)
HORIZON TOURNEY: UIC 79, Green Bay 70: It’s madness (3/6/17)
HORIZON AWARDS: Flames collect hardware (3/2/17)