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An Ode to Eric McClellan

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James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Eric McClellan came to Gonzaga from Austin, Texas by way of Tulsa and Vanderbilt. It's not often that someone ends up playing for three different (non-JUCO) programs in their college career, and it usually only happens because there was trouble along the way.

McClellan's talent has always been evident. As a true freshman at Tulsa, he played in 30 games en route to an 8.5 ppg average in 23mpg. After sitting out a transfer year when he left for Nashville, McClellan made an immediate impact at Vanderbilt, leading the Commodores in scoring with 14.3ppg in his 12 games with the program. However, that success proved to be short lived. He was first suspended for violating a university academic policy, before being dismissed altogether from the program several days later, after it was discovered that he would be charged with misdemeanor theft stemming from an incident prior to the start of the season.

Much to his credit, McClellan never tried to run from his past or hide from his mistakes. He's openly discussed his mis-steps on social media, during interviews, and on the HBO show. Speaking of the HBO show, it's through this medium that fans have really gotten the chance to find out what kind of guy McClellan really is.

"I'm not supposed to be here . . . I made some choices that could have changed the whole trajectory of my life. For the first time in my life, I didn't really have a next step, everything was gone. Basketball was gone. School is no more. I'm in this world where everything has collapsed on me. But I promised myself that I was going to make it right, if I got another opportunity, I was going to take full advantage of it," said McClellan to HBO. Recognizing the risk bringing him in posed to the program, as well as the individual reputations of the coaching staff, McClellan hit me right in the feels when he said "I don't understand why they did it, but they saved my life."

The coaching staff and the University did their due diligence when they considered bringing in McClellan, and decided he was a guy worth taking a risk on. That decision has been paid back in spades. While McClellan may have struggled to immediately find his role on a deep team last season, and his jump shots at the beginning of this season made me cringe at times (just being honest), he has been invaluable down the stretch. The impassioned speech he gave in the practice following the Senior night loss to Saint Mary's was enough to get me going. And the 61 sensational points he delivered in the WCC Tourney helped Gonzaga secure another tournament bid when their backs were against the wall. That he wasn't recognized with a well-deserved spot on the All-Tournament team, or even the Tournament Most Outstanding Player (no offense to Wiltj), stuns me. So I'll recognize him here.

As the Zags prepare for their 18th (!!!) straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, I am most excited to watch Eric McClellan's last dance. His evolution as a basketball player over the second half of the season served as one of the catalysts to another tournament berth. His evolution as a human being--from a young man who made some poor choices, to one of the unquestioned leaders of this Gonzaga squad--make him a Zag who should not be soon forgotten.

2 1/2 years ago I lost everything. Basketball, my education, etc. I didn't know what my next move was. A lot of people shook on me. I sat down with my mother and had one of the deepest conversations I've ever had. She told me, "when you think things are happening to you, they're actually happening for you." I was a prisoner of my own thoughts for a long time but through all that shit, I kept myself sane. I promised myself that I would correct my wrongs. I lost it a little but through the mist, I found myself. God kept his wings on me and continued to guide me. I was able to find a home in Gonzaga and through everything, it's been the best place I've been in my life. I thank everyone associated with this university for giving me this opportunity to not all share my gifts and talents but to also, inspire, find ways to serve and love for all the abundance I have around me. I took my wildest dreams and I mapped them out. My brothers & I made history tonight. BROTHERS. And as I share this story, I'm shedding tears because everything you put in your mind is real. It can & will happen. Just keep going! Please! This is for the crazy ones! This is for the marathon runners. This is for the one's with unwavering faith and extreme persistence! This is for all those who believed in me. This is for all the love. This is for you. #laps #TMC #thankful #WCCCHAMPS

A photo posted by Eric McClellan (@easymcclellan) on