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King McClure’s Last Reign: The Interview and Journey Left

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A long interview with King McClure, including a breakdown of where he’s been and where he’s going

NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Classic-Baylor at Creighton Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A few months after a season that didn’t go his way, King McClure has the perspective that only a man—who was told his career and dream were over—can possess. “Everything I went through, I feel like God was preparing me for my senior year.” says McClure.

McClure found out he had a rare heart condition in June of 2015. The first doctor told him that he’d only seen three people with that condition. All had to end their career.

A trip to the Mayo Clinic—as it has for so many—changed McClure’s life. One of their doctors examined McClure and told him a surgery could let him continue his career.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Baylor
McClure shares a laugh with Mario Kegler during a win over Kansas.
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Go to any Baylor basketball game since 2015, and you’ll see McClure’s parents. That’s part of why he choose Baylor over Kansas. “It was really close and my family and I were really close. They can make every home game and still try to make every away game,” says McClure.

His parents had different reactions when they heard McClure could continue playing after getting surgery. McClure says, “My pops said, ‘let’s do this ASAP; when can we do this? Can we do this tomorrow?’ My mom was like, ‘no, I can’t do this.’ It took about two weeks of praying non-stop...she was in the hospital room with me every night on that couch with me. I really love her for that.”

McClure arrived at Baylor late in the summer of 2015 and had to adjust to the speed of the game, without any real off-season. He came alive against an Oklahoma team that earned a No. 1 ranking and made the Final Four. Oklahoma led 46-25 at halftime, but with McClure’s 17 points on 3-of-4 shooting from deep, Baylor somehow led late in the game. An incredible performance by Oklahoma’s guards stymied the comeback. But McClure says, “To go out there and perform like that against a top 10 draft pick in Buddy Hield...big confidence boost. And that day forward, it really just raised my confidence and gave me a different perspective on the game.”

McClure’s best performances seem to come when Baylor needs them the most. And the Bears sure needed one in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. The Bears trailed Louisville 39-22 at halftime. McClure then went crazy, nailing back-to-back 3-point shots:

McClure says, “Rick Pitino didn’t know who I was. He looks at his assistant and says, ‘who the F is this kid, number 22.’ He looks at his assistant and starts cussing him out. Come on Rick, you recruited me. I was talking to Donovan Mitchell after the game, ‘you weren’t on the scouting report. I was shocked you weren’t on the scouting report. I told everyone you could play. You went off.”

Baylor basketball broadcasts feature a few stories that get repeated every game: Tweety Carter was a McDonald’s All-American, Rico Gathers never lifted a weight until college, Taurean Prince was an LIU-Brookly commit, and Jake Lindsey’s dad is the General Manager of the Jazz. Hopefully “Pitino didn’t have McClure on the scouting report,” joins that list.

Mitchell was right that McClure could play. Behind McClure’s 15 point second half, the Bears managed to knock off Louisville. Shockingly, Pitino seems to have made a bad decision while he was at Louisville.

USC v Baylor
McClure’s 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range against USC helped Baylor make the 2017 Sweet 16.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With Johnathan Motley and Ish Wainright gone, last season seemed like McClure’s time to step up and lead the offense. But things didn’t go his way last season:

The season didn’t go well for the Bears either. They managed to lose to TCU in overtime while shooting 1-of-12 from three. They lost to Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse, despite leading by five with less than two minutes remaining. They fell in Norman while making 15 threes and lost to an Iowa State team that finished 13-18.

McClure’s not afraid to open up about last year. McClure says, “We were so talented and had so much potential. We could just never get over the hump as a squad...more than anything, some games it was a lack of effort. We didn’t come to play every game. We didn’t play hard. Our effort should never be in question.”

To make his final season different, McClure is open about his own problems. I often wrote about McClure passing up open shots lasts season, so I asked him about it. McClure says, “Definitely. That’s one thing the coaches have been on my case about. You’re right. There’d be times when I wouldn’t shoot the ball, I’d be open and not shoot.”

Watch McClure’s shot—even when contested—and it’s obvious he should be taking more threes:

Despite not having the season he wanted, McClure displayed two great skills. First, he played much better on the ball. Against Creighton, the Bear’s offense took off running a play they call “eye.” McClure says, “Coach Billy Peterson put that set in. Khyri Thomas was on Manu—the idea was that Khyri Thomas is an elite NBA defender, let him guard Manu and keep him in the corner..let’s put King in the eye formation. This was the first year Coach Drew put me on the ball...this past year he let me play on the ball quite a bit. The lane’s were open and I was able to create and finish.” It worked well enough for McClure to lead the Bears to another tournament title:

Second, McClure’s defense was phenomenal near the end of the season. McClure says, “I want to be on the court, I wasn’t scoring. The Kansas State game, I scored like two points, but I played like 35 minutes....I want to be on the floor no matter what I’m doing.” He stayed on the floor with impressive defensive efforts in other games too. He was by far the Bear’s best defender against TCU, and he fought hard to prevent a Mississippi State offensive rebound:

McClure’s focused on winning at Baylor. He’s set to graduate in December, and in an era of graduate transfers, it wouldn’t have been tough for him to become one. But that’s not what he wanted. McClure says, “I trusted Coach Drew, and that’s what made me want to stay.”

He also has high hopes for this year’s team. Baylor finished 62nd in KenPom’s offensive efficiency metric last season. That was the first time the Bears were ranked outside the top 25 since 2011. “I think the offense will be different....Jake, Makai, me...we like to make plays for others. Us sharing the ball and pushing the pace, I like to push it, Jake likes to push it, regardless of what Coach Drew calls, we can push it. I feel like coach Drew can trust us,” McClure says.

There are other reasons McClure thinks Coach Drew and the staff will be able to trust this team. “We got guys that like to work. We have a bunch of guys that weren’t ranked high and had to work. We don’t mind being the underdog. We got guys working at 6 A.M. every morning..we’ve got a bunch of hard workers and guys looking to get better...last year we weren’t getting over the hump in those games.”

Three years ago, McClure wasn’t supposed to be in this spot after a medical diagnosis. It was all over before it began. So, he’s cherishing this final season. A chance with his four year back-court teammate, Jake Lindsey. A chance to the take the court with his roommate, Mario Kegler, and a chance to get Baylor back to the NCAA Tournament. Near the end of the interview, McClure understands and embraces whatever comes next. “I knew God had a plan for me. If I’m supposed to be in the league or overseas, I’m supposed to be.”