When senior center Anthony “Biggie” McClain signed with there were high expectations of him being a presence in the post in his Bearcat career.
A nagging foot problem and the inability to add bulk to his 7'0” frame derailed those plans leading in to his senior season, but at a formidable 290 plus pounds and finally healthy McClain is ready to make the most of his final season.
“Over the summer putting on weight helped me a lot,” McClain said. “Practicing against (Ibrihima) Thomas and Yancy (Gates), learning how to get used to my weight and using my body more. That was a big thing because last year my conditioning wasn't as good as it is now and my body weight was down. The weight I picked up was good for me over the summer and I haven't had any feet problems the whole summer so I'm just improving.”
Head coach Mick Cronin has been pushing McClain to add bulk since he arrived on campus, and now he finally feels the big man can withstand the physical post play he will face in the Big East conference.
“It's been an ongoing process of trying to get him to gain weight and get him healthy,” Cronin said. “We had to get him to gain weight because you get pushed around at our level and his height is irrelevant because he has no balance when he's getting pushed.
While the foot problems and lack of playing time have frustrated McClain at times, he knows he has a chance to end on a high note, and he is ready for the challenge.
“My college experience hasn't been what I expected it to be out of high school, but I've just got to make the best out of it. It's never too late. I've got one more year left so I've got to make the best of it.”
He is focused on getting things on track before he graduates in the spring, but it wasn't always easy and as recently as this past summer he considered leaving the program.
“At times I wanted to give up,” said McClain. “During the summer there was a lot of time where me and coach would sit in the office and I didn't know what I wanted to do. I would talk about my options as far as transferring and I didn't know what I wanted to do. I felt like me and him got close during the summer during the hard situation.”
While Cronin allowed McClain to work through his frustrations, he always made the point that he needed to put in the necessary work if he wanted to stay in the program.
“When guys don't end up being a starter after a certain period of time in their career there's people in their camp that want them to transfer,” Cronin said. “I don't hold guys back so there have been periods where I've told him to talk to other schools. If he's going to stay here, he's never going to play if he didn't gain weight and then he's got to put in more effort. It's been the same message all along.”
One life changing discovery put things in perspective for McClain, and the news that his fiancé was expecting their first child got him back on track.
“This year what really motivated me is because I have a daughter on the way. That's really one of my motivations to succeed because I'm about to have a mouth to feed.”
With his big man bought in and adding over 40 pounds to his frame, Cronin challenged him even more by placing him in a position to use his years of experience to fill a leadership role.
“I want all of our guys to have the mentality of a captain because I want everyone to have ownership in the team, but I want our seniors to lead us,” said Cronin. “It's time for him to enjoy his year and help me keep the team focused on what's important. I think he's excited about having a role on this team. He's excited that not only is he going to get to play, but he's also going to be in a leadership role.”
McClain isn't the in your face type leader, but he has found ways to provide what is expected of him in practice.
“I feel like I don't have to be the vocal leader out during games when I'm the vocal leader in practice,” McClain said. “I'm here to win and if I've got to get on somebody and they don't like it, it's just tough love. You've got to do that if you want to win.”
With a defined role and a bigger frame, McClain is ready to make his last season in Red and Black his best.
“My expectations are for this to be my best year both physically and mentally because my last two years I've been down. This year I feel more relieved and I feel coach has a lot more faith in me than he has in the past.”