Wayne McClain was already an assistant coach on the University of Illinois basketball team when Bruce Weber was hired. Athletic Director Ron Guenther encouraged Weber to keep McClain on staff, and he has paid dividends ever since.
Besides recruiting the basketball hotbed of Peoria, McClain is the enforcer in practice, the coach who does all the dirty work necessary to get Illini players to play at a peak level.
If Weber was away on a recruiting trip, McClain would take over practice. Now, it is official that he is the head coach should something happen to keep Weber away from practice. For McClain, nothing has really changed.
"For me, I just think it's the same. It was crazy before, and it will be crazy after."
Still, every assistant coach aspires to lead his own team, and McClain is no exception. This promotion is a feather in his cap.
"I'm excited. What makes me so excited is that Coach Weber is so well respected. His reputation is second to none, so for him to do something like this makes me feel good."
Perhaps the Illini upperclassman showing the most personal growth since last year is junior guard Demetri McCamey. He has lost weight and dedicated himself to improving his game. McClain feels his biggest adjustment has come in the way he responds to coaching.
"I think the key word is coachable. He's much more coachable. He wasn't blatant at any time, but he stands there and looks you in the face, he acknowledges you, and he doesn't want to look for reasons you're not right. That's what I appreciate about him the most. Throughout our workouts, you correct him and he says 'okay.' He's matured a lot."
McClain has high praise for the four freshmen.
"They remind me of a group like (Stephen) Bardo and Kendall Gill, (Kenny) Battle, just long and athletic and can do a lot of things. It should be exciting.
"They're long. They give you the opportunity to do a lot of things defensively as well as offensively that we probably couldn't do in the past. We can't help but be excited about these guys."
D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Joseph Bertrand and Tyler Griffey are more than just basketball players. They are intelligent, motivated, aware and have a long-term love of the University of Illinois. McClain says they compliment the upperclassmen well.
"Obviously, they're a special group. Once we get them comfortable to our system, they'll do real well. They're a good mixture with our older guys."
Another beauty of their situation is they'll likely be around awhile because educatiion is important to them. That way, they can continue to improve and provide a foundation for future seasons.
"The big upside of these guys is that we can hopefully have them for the next 3-4 years. They have that time to get better.
"Unless there's something crazy, these are guys you can project for the future. They're something you can build on, not only as they develop, but the groups behind them as well."
Now the real fun begins for McClain. He will be on their tails daily, pushing them to reach their fullest potential. He can't wait to get started.
"I look forward to coaching them. We've got to get some of the freshmen acclimated to our system."