One of Illinois basketball’s coaching legends is gone. Wayne McClain, the current boys basketball coach Champaign Central and a former state champion at Peoria Manual, died on Wednesday, days after being hospitalized with pneumonia. He was 59.
As noted by the News-Gazette, McClain is best known for his first stop on the coaching train, leading Peoria Manual to three consecutive state titles between 1995 and 1997. He racked up an impressive 163-22 record in six seasons at Manual, then was recruited away by then-Illinois head coach Bill Self to be an assistant coach for the 2002-03 season. McClain remained with the Illini after Self departed for Kansas and was an integral member of the program under Bill Weber through the 2011-12 season.
McClain spent one season on Weber’s staff at Kansas State but the draw of Illinois was too strong and he returned to take over the Champaign Central program prior to the 2013 campaign, immediately leading the Central Maroons to a regional title.
While McClain was undoubtedly a great basketball mind, he is now being remembered by many as an even better person.
“The quality and the character he had, you just don’t see that,” Joe Stovall, the father of a current Central player, told the News-Gazette. “The biggest thing that I’ve noticed being here the last few days is how many people he touched outside sports. The one thing that I found is that he just truly cared about people and people truly cared about him.”
Current Manual coach Derrick Booth said McClain was among his biggest influences in his desire to become a coach.
“I think it’s impossible for (McClain) to have realized the magnitude of the impact he had on people,” Booth told WMBD radio. “because to him, Coach McClain was just being Coach McClain. But, if something happened in your life he was was first one at your door to talk to your about what’s going on, either positive or negative. He wanted to help you get through that situation. Those types of individuals are hard to find and Coach McClain was that type of individual.”
Indeed, McClain will be missed by far more than his immediate family that he leaves behind. He’ll be missed by his extended family, which rightfully includes all the players he ever coached.