Cox's Corner: Boomer's Back And Close To Being 100 Percent
BRIDGEWATER, Va. – It’s been almost a year since Bridgewater forward Daniel McClain injured his knee in a non-conference game.
“December 17th.” McClain remembers the date with ease.
The Eagles were off to a 5-2 start a year ago and McClain was a big reason why. The 6-5 forward was averaging 6.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He was coming off back-to-back, double-digit scoring games in the Don Glick Classic before going down just three minutes into the game at Ferrum.
“At first, I thought it was just a sprain and the Ferrum trainer thought the same thing,” McClain recalls. “There wasn’t a lot of pain. I wanted to go back in and play in the second half. If it would have been a conference game, I probably would have played.”
When McClain got back to campus, the Bridgewater training staff had him scheduled for an MRI as quickly as possible. When the results came back and McClain saw the look on trainer Scott Powers’ face, he knew it wasn’t good.
“I saw Scott and I said, ‘so, I can just brace it and go play?’ He just shook his head and walked away. Then, I knew it was more serious. I didn’t expect to hear that I had torn the ACL,” McClain said.
McClain had surgery exactly one month later on Jan. 17, 2012. He was confident he would be ready to play when the 2012-13 season tipped off.
“I did some research on my own and most things I read said it would be nine months to a year before you would be ready to play again,” McClain said. “I was cleared to start playing basketball at the end of July. The turnaround was pretty quick. I worked on my rehab every day and that helped me get ahead of the game.”
“His work ethic helped him speed up the timetable for getting back on the court,” Eagles head coach Don Burgess said. “It says a lot about his mental and physical toughness.”
Physically, McClain is close. It’s the mental aspect of playing on a surgically-repaired the knee that takes a little longer to come around.
“I probably am close to 100 percent physically,” McClain said. “I think any sport, not just basketball, is probably about 90 percent mental and that’s the part I’m still dealing with now. I’m still babying the knee at times. I’m still not jumping the way I used to. The strength in the leg is back. Now, it’s just a matter of getting to the point where I just play and don’t think about it.”
McClain has put up modest numbers in his return to the hardwood this season as he is averaging 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He expects his production to increase as his teammates become accustomed to him being back on the court.
“Early last season, we were playing pretty well as a team and I was playing pretty well,” McClain said. “I missed 20 games last year where I could have been playing with these guys. They got used to playing without me. I have to regain their confidence in me.”
Burgess insists McClain’s teammates still have plenty of confidence in him down low. But now, those same teammates have more confidence in themselves. “Early last season, we had to go inside to Boomer (McClain’s nickname) in order to try and get points. He was one of our first options. But after playing without him those guys are now battle-tested and more confident as well. Guys like Ronnie (Thomas), Aaron (Adams), Ed Reddick, Tavis Stapleton…those guys can score the basketball for us. They have picked up their production.”
Burgess knows, however, that establishing McClain as a presence down low is an important option for the Eagles. “We’re going to work on getting Boomer more touches,” Burgess explained. “We’re going to get him back to the level he was playing at early last year. That’s going to make us a better basketball team.”
The Eagles are in a similar situation to a year ago. The team is currently 4-2 and could easily be 5-1 if not for a late game meltdown against Randolph.
“I think we’re close, really close, to being a team that’s going to move up in the ODAC,” McClain said. “We’re still a little bit away, but there are some things we can tighten up before we get back to conference play in the New Year.”
The Eagles have had trouble holding on to leads in the waning minutes of games this season. In games against The College of New Jersey and Emory & Henry, the Eagles watched 20-point, second-half leads dwindle to single digits before holding on for wins. Against Randolph, a 12-point lead with eight minutes left wasn’t enough as the WildCats rallied to snatch a victory away from the Eagles in the closing minute.
“We have to get to the point when we’re up 10 we need to push and get ahead by 20. If we’re up 20, we need to keep playing and get up by 30. We need to learn to expand a lead instead of just holding on to a lead. Right now, it’s a mental thing. The more we play together, the more consistent we will be in late-game situations.”
The Eagles have five games remaining in this calendar year before returning to the conference battles in 2013. McClain and his teammates expect to make some noise in the conference race.
“I think being picked in a tie for ninth in the preseason poll was too low,” McClain said. “We think we’re better than that. Now it’s time for us to go out and start doing it on the court. I believe we have a team that is good enough to make a move up in the standings.”