by John Ring

Wayne McClain knows that this Peoria Manual team doesn't rate anywhere close to his Ram teams of the past.

But even the best teams in Illinois pale in comparison to his three-time AA champions (1995-1997) who were led by Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin.

''Since I've been here,'' said McClain, who has been the Manual coach since 1994, ''this is probably the worst team we've put on the floor. I mean, we're not a a very talented basketball team.''

''But,'' added McClain, ''these kids play hard because that's the only way we know how to go.''

Both the Rams and the Silver Streaks went at it at Thiel Gym on Saturday night and renewed their rivalry that goes back for decades. It was Manual that Galesburg defeated for its only state championship in 1913. And in 1993, it was the Rams who beat Galesburg for a Sectional Championship.

Bad as McClain says the Rams are this year, they still have a 12-3 record and are judged as the best team in the Peoria area, if you tend to believe the Journal-Star rankings.

''When Galesburg had their good guys, Shaq [Rod Thompson] and Joey [Range], we tried to work out a regular season game that year but we couldn't because Galesburg was committed to the KMOX Shootout in St. Louis,'' said McClain. '' Mike Miller and I kept talking about scheduling each other, so we worked out a four-year contract.'' The first of the four games was played at Manual last season.

''For our program, scheduling good teams is the only thing you can do. The bottom line is if you're fortunate enough to reach State, there's not a bad team down there. My whole thing has been to schedule the best teams you can find out there. You take nothing for granted and it's helped our program.''

McClain followed legendary Coach Dick VanScoyoc, who won the first of four Manual basketball championships in 1993.

''The most important thing I carried over from him was discipline,'' said McClain, who played for Coach Van at Manual in the early 1970s. ''Discipline leads to success. Athletes today are a whole lot different than they were, even a few years ago. They have a different mind set. As a coach, you have to be a psychologist, you have to be firm, you have to be fair.''

''But in the end, you have to get rid of the players who don't buy into your system. I'm not in a situation where I have to win. I'm going to do things my way. I have 45 players in the basketball program at Manual and it's a whole lot easier for 45 of them to adjust to me, rather than me adjusting to 45 players. If a player can handle it, good. If not, so be it.''

McClain, like Miller, has been the subject of a lot of rumors about college jobs. One had him going to Illinois as an assistant. Another had him going as an assistant at Bradley. None have panned out.

''If something comes along, I'll take it,'' said the Rams coach. ''But I love Manual. I love the community. I still live down there. I've had opportunities to leave for really good money but it's not the right time. I'm able to watch my son play basketball. I'm able to spend time with my daughter. If I was a college coach, I'd be on the road recruiting or I'd be getting home later than I already am. After they graduate, I may entertain leaving at that time.''

McClain is also a very proactive coach in finding the right college for his players. he spends a lot of time helping each and every one of his players.

''I'd be remiss if I didn't do everything that I could possibly do for them,'' said McClain. ''I owe'em that much. Most of our basketball players go on to two or four year schools and after being in my basketball program for four years, I feel they deserve that.''

During the Streaks game, Wayne McClain was like any other high school coach. He paced the sidelines, worked the referees and scolded his players. ''He's throwing you around like a rag-doll,'' McClain said to one of his guards after Beau Shay forced a turnover.

When Galesburg's Jordan Watson dove for a loose ball and and found himself tangled into the Manual bench, it was Wayne McClain who helped him to his feet. When Shay inbounded the ball in front of the Rams bench after a fierce skirmish at halfcourt, it was Wayne McClain who smiled and talked to the Streaks senior guard.

And at the end of Manual's hard-fought 70-67 win, McClain breathed a sigh of relief. ''I'm glad to get out of here with a win,'' said the Manual coach afterwards.''The Galesburg kids played real hard.''

And in Wayne McClain's world of basketball, that's all you need to do.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online January 11, 2000

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