“It’s probably the only time you’ll see me stand still as long as I’m here,” new UIC coach Steve McClain said Wednesday as he began his introductory press conference.
That’s a good sign for the Flames. Having a tireless worker is necessary to turn around a program that has averaged 9.5 wins over the last six seasons.
McClain comes to UIC following five seasons at Indiana as an assistant under Tom Crean.
Although he has spent nearly the last decade as an assistant, this is not the 52-year-old’s first stab as a head coach.
McClain had a successful stint at the helm of Wyoming from 1998 to 2007. In 2002, he led the Cowboys to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 1980s. McClain coached Wyoming to an upset over No. 6 seed Gonzaga in the first round.
The Cowboys also made three NITs during McClain’s tenure, but he was ultimately fired after four straight postseason-less seasons.
Some of McClain’s Wyoming were loaded with Chicago natives, such as Jay Straight (Dunbar) and Brandon Ewing (Julian).
Slightly more than a decade ago, UIC was one of the nation’s premier mid-major programs, and those rosters were loaded with hometown players. McClain expressed how crucial recruiting local talent will be for building success.
“We turned the Wyoming program with Chicago guys. They brought toughness and a culture of winning,” McClain said. “There is no question it all starts right here and I can promise you there isn’t one coach, whether it’s in the city or outside the city, that we’re not going to touch. We’ve got to keep the best players right here. Why leave? Why not stay where your parents can see you play? Why not be a part of our family? At the end of the day, there are tough kids here. I want tough kids. I want kids that are about winning. Our base starts right here.”
The base also begins with UIC’s returning players. As of yet, none of the Flames are transferring in the wake of the coaching change.
The Flames have a promising freshman in center Tai Odiase, the Horizon League’s top returning shot blocker. Junior guard Paris Burns averaged 10.4 points in 22.2 minutes per game. Redshirt freshman wing Lance Whitaker is finally healthy, and he showed his defensive prowess by locking down Oakland star Kahlil Felder in a Horizon League Tournament victory.
“I’ve studied them enough to know that there’s something in there,” McClain said of the current UIC players. “Now I have to bring it out more. And then we’re going to add some pieces. I didn’t come here to win two or three years from now. We’re going to win next year. The pieces start right there. The first step is them believing.”
McClain was clear from his opening remarks there is no room for standing still in rebuilding this one prominent program, particularly if he is going to reach the high expectations he set Wednesday.
“I came here to win championships, to go to the NCAA Tournament, and not just go but win,” McClain said. “Winning the Horizon League, that will be on our wall every day. Getting to the NCAA Tournament, that will be on our wall every day. … Will it happen overnight? No, but it’s going to happen quickly.”