Son of a prep legend, Kyle MacLean playing his own game

Photo: Chuck Kirman, Ventura County Star

Don MacLean’s legacy still hangs, most literally, inside Simi Valley High’s Tom Harmon Gymnasium. It’s hard to miss.

MacLean’s storied Pioneers’ jersey, No. 24, is encased inside a glass case the size of a small coffee table. It’s located high atop the gym’s inner-most wall, not all that far from one of the baskets where MacLean poured through a glitzy share of his 2,343 points in his high school career.

That number stood as Ventura County’s top total for 30 years, or until this very season.

Something else was in can’t-miss mode the night of Dec. 9, inside the very same Simi Valley High gymnasium.

That would be Kyle MacLean’s scoring touch.

A mere nine games into his varsity high school career as a sophomore member of the Westlake High basketball team, Don’s eldest son knocked down 43 points in an 82-51 victory over Golden Valley.

It happened in the Simi Valley Tournament, and much of the outburst came on long-range jump shots.

When you’re hot, you’re hot. A shooter revels in the feeling.

“It’s hard to describe,” Kyle says with a grin. “There are nights when the cylinder looks twice as big. You can’t miss. Your teammates know this and they get the ball to you. You feel like everything you’ll put up will go in.”

Oh, and his father’s jersey that hangs within sight-range every time he headed down court that night? Kyle professed not to notice.

“Luckily, my dad has never made a big deal about what he did as a player,” said Kyle. “It’s hard not to know what he did, and I know I can go to him for any question that I have. He’s my dad. He wants me to play well and have fun. I just enjoy playing basketball.”

Don MacLean entered high school at 6-foot-8, grew to an NBA-sized 6-10, and was already a ballyhooed college prospect from his days at Hillside Middle School in Simi Valley. He blossomed into arguably the top basketball player ever produced in Ventura County

Those powerhouse Simi Valley squads, coached by Bob Hawking, included top talents Shawn Delaittre and Butch Hawking as teammates and reached two CIF-SS championship games in three years.

The Pioneers capped it all by defeating Capistrano Valley, 70-64, in the Division 4-A title contest in 1988. It remains the Pioneers’ only Southern Section championship in boys basketball.

For his senior year, MacLean scored a county-record 1,008 points in a single season while averaging 31.5 points and 12.0 rebounds.

Don, of course, was merely getting started. He signed to play at UCLA, graduated after four years as the Bruins’ and Pac-12 Conference’s all-time leading scorer, and was the first-round draft choice of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons in 1992.

MacLean played nine seasons for seven teams in the NBA, scoring 3,490 points while averaging 10.9 points. He was the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 1994.

Like father, like son? Well, yes and no.

Kyle, at 6-1, can’t mimic his dad on the court, isn’t the same surreal scorer and shouldn’t have to be.

As a 10th-grader, Kyle is already a solid high school player and the Warriors’ youngest starter. He’s second on the team in scoring in averaging 11.7 points and has knocked down 36 3-point field goals.

The son may or may not be a future impact player in college, but already has his father beat in one crucial category. The classroom.

Kyle posted a 4.3 grade-point average as a freshman, and is currently enrolled in AP classes. He’s destined to be a perennial scholar-athlete.

“I’m not sure where he gets that from,” Don said with a chuckle. “Both (wife) Brooke and myself told him, ‘You don’t have to knock yourself out as a freshman.’ But he was having none of that. He did all the work and continues to work hard in the classroom.”

Kyle, even as a sophomore, is savvy enough to plan a life beyond basketball.

“I can’t stand being lazy,” he said. “I have to work hard in the classroom, because I realize how important a quality education is going to be no matter what I do in life. I want to keep playing basketball, but it’s going to be over some day.”

Don, at age 49, continues to make basketball his career, and is widely-known as the TV analyst for men’s basketball on the Pac-12 Network and for the L.A. Clippers in pre- and postgame shows for Fox Sports West. He’s a frequent radio guest for Petros and Money on KLAC AM radio.

MacLean’s most expansive role is as director for the Conejo Valley Basketball Club, a premier youth travel ball league that trains and teaches the game to youngsters from grades 3 through 8. He and his family are longtime residents of Westlake Village.

In his other job with Creative Artists Agency, he’s charged with preparing and mentoring clients who are potential high picks in the NBA Draft.

Safe to day, when it comes to basketball, MacLean is used to being front and center.

As a basketball dad? No so much. He’s definitely the anti-Lavar Ball.

Don rarely misses a Westlake game, but is never a court-side presence. He cringes at the thought at ever being one of those parents, screaming with every dribble.

“I like to lurk,” he said. “I’m usually high up in the stands or in the shadows. I love high school basketball and I love my son. But I’m not there to coach him. I want him to enjoy the game of basketball and see it as an entirely positive experience.

“If he wants to talk about it after the game, we’re going to do that. If he wants my advice on anything, I’m there. But this is his time to shine. This should be all about the team and him.”

Don did his share of coaching his son, in the Conejo Valley Basketball Club. He continues to coach younger sons Blake and Trent.

Sure, Don MacLean is keen on the game’s fundamentals, but most of the lessons he chooses to impart involve one’s work ethic.

“I’ve always told Kyle that if he wants to improve and get better at basketball, he needs to work at it,” said Don. “I tell him if all of his friends spend the morning playing video games and he’s outside working on his game, who’s going to improve the most?

“Really, the same applies for everything he and my sons will do in life. If they want to accomplish something in life, they’ll need to work for it. Nothing comes easy. Nothing will be handed to you.”

Don made it a point never to force basketball onto his sons. Kyle agrees that he made his own choice.

“Growing up, I played basketball, baseball, soccer,” Kyle said. “After awhile, it was all about basketball. I like the pace of the game. I enjoy being on the court.”

Kyle may be a teenaged son, but he says he’s completely attuned to turning to his father for advice.

“There are times when I’m like, ‘Not now dad. I don’t want to hear it,’ ” Kyle said. “Sometimes that happens after a tough loss. But I really do want to hear what he says, and I always want to go to him to talk about the game. How can I not?

“He’s done so much, played at such a high level. Who better to explain things to me than him? He’ll always have my best interests at heart. He’s always concerned most about me.”

Said Don: “I’m actually finding that this year is the most he’s come to be for advice. He’s getting older, maturing, and it shows. Going to the varsity team as a sophomore is not an easy adjustment. He’s getting use to the rhythm of the game and the pace. He does fit right in,”

Kyle said he’s long learned to deal with the comparisons of having a famous dad who played the same game. Negatives? What negatives?

“There could be some pressure, but the thing I know is that I’ve got to be myself,” he said. “I play my game. That’s all I can do. I can’t do anything differently.”

Don concurs.

“I haven’t even talked about that with him,” he said. “I don’t think anything I did is a big deal to the kids today. They live in their own times. They are doing their own thing. I’m just a dad.”

In making the jump to the varsity team this season, Kyle said his dad has offered sage counsel on being a smart teammate.

“He’s taught me a lot about getting open, making myself available and taking the best shots. The varsity game is certainly faster than I’ve been used to, but I like the pace. I’m getting more and more comfortable,” he said.

If son Kyle is a different kind of player playing a different position, Don does see the similarities.

Don was a fiery competitor. Kyle is cool and calm, and a fiery competitor.

“I do see some of that in him,” said Don. “I hated to lose. He does too. I’ve never seen anything wrong wiith that either. Care about what you do. I see that in him. He wants to win. It’s gets out of control if you’re getting a (technical) every night, but that’s never been him. He’s under control.”

Westlake’s head coach is Kyle Kegley, himself a feisty competitor who starred at Thousand Oaks High.

MacLean is happy to turn over his son’s coaching responsibilities.

“I think it’s good that Kyle is hearing a different voice,” said MacLean. “He knows what I have to say. It’s good that he’s got a chance to learn something different. That’s the best way to grow as a player.”

Kyle also has this much in common with his dad. He loves to win basketball games.

“There’s no greater feeling,” he said. “Losing is hard, losing is tough no matter how you might have played that night, I’m happiest after a win. I want to feel that every night. Our goal is to win a championship. Nothing would make me happier than to be a part of that.”

For more, visit the Ventura County (Calif.) Star

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