Dec. 15, 2009
By Jeff Gentil
The transition from high school to college can be tough for a regular student. The transition from high school to college for a student-athlete can be even more difficult.
But so far, Daress McClung has gone from Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis to the University of Cincinnati women's basketball team without as much as a blip.
In fact, it only took her six games to work her way into the starting lineup. Obviously McClung has made a good impression quickly on new coach Jamelle Elliott.
"She has a great feel for the game," Elliott said. "She knows when to make the right pass, how to set an effective screen, and she can knock down an open 15-footer with confidence. I (put her in the starting lineup) because it was in the best interest of the team. She was filling the stat sheet in the first couple of games."
McClung is averaging 7.3 points and 6.3 rebounds with nine steals and a team-high seven blocks. Her .474 field-goal percentage is second-best on the Bearcats.
As is often the case, sitting back and watching can be a great tool for young players. In this case, the 6-foot McClung got a chance to watch games develop from the bench and get a feel for the flow.
"Things happen for a reason," McClung said. "It was best for me to watch (early in the season). It gave me the upper hand; I could make adjustments from the bench. Now that I'm starting it's a privilege and an opportunity I don't want to give back."
Like all student-athletes who leave their hometown for college, McClung admits to a little homesickness. But, since her hometown is only 100 miles up I-74, she believes being at UC is a great situation.
"My family has been down for every home game," she said. "Sure I get homesick, but my family has been great. I'm close enough to home, but I can grow at the same time. It's a nice home-away-from-home."
Watching young players develop and grow before your eyes is gratifying for college coaches. Sure, winning is important, but having an affect on what kind of kind of players they are can be equally important. Elliott has seen McClung make great strides.
"Daress has grown tremendously," Elliott said. "She has excellent leadership qualities. It takes a lot for a freshman to be able to play at this level. She has poise and confidence and you don't see that very often (from freshmen). It's a big adjustment; (at the college level) everyone is constantly growing and learning. Players are bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter. Daress is open to learning. She is a great leader; very into her academics. She's a very well-rounded person."
One benefit for McClung is the ability to lean on the older players and learn from their experiences. It also doesn't hurt that despite ascending to the starting lineup so early in her career, there are no hard feelings.
"They've taught me to stay positive and stay composed," she said. "The competition level is really intense; more demanding. But it's been nice. Even though we're competing for some of the same positions, we're all a team. If we stay together, we'll win together."
While McClung originally committed to UC under former coach J. Kelley Hall, she was excited to play for Elliott.
"I stayed committed to UC because I had heard nothing but good things about (Elliott)," McClung said. "She had a very good reputation and the school she came from was a big reason, too. (Connecticut) is a great program. She is very personable and is easy to play for."
Cincinnati is 4-5 after dropping three straight games. The Bearcats play at home at 7 p.m. Friday against Eastern Kentucky.
McClung can see the team coming together more as a collective unit: "We're working harder and sticking together," she said. "We have the urgency to play well. When we lose we have to fight and fight harder. I can see that our practices have been more intense. Hopefully it will pay off in the future."
Elliott agrees with McClung's assessment and hopes to use the losses as a learning experience: "We can't fix everything overnight," she said. "We're constantly getting better as a team and we can use these next few games (before conference play starts) as an opportunity to improve."