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Flames Feature: Making Sweet Music --- Alex McLean
From a very early age, all Alex McLean wanted to do was make music. Learning to play a variety of instruments as a child, McLean developed quite an ear for classical melodies. Even late into his high school years, music was to be his path for life after Bay Shore High School, for he had secured a music scholarship due to his prowess on the classical bass.
But something happened to McLean in his senior year. For the musician who never even played basketball in high school, something was growing. In fact, what was growing was McLean himself!
"I had planned all along to go to college for music, and to go on scholarship for the classical bass," laughed the junior power forward. "But I shot up four inches my senior year, and suddenly the prospect of playing basketball in college became a reality. I always liked basketball when I was younger, watching it and playing pick-up games, but I certainly never dreamed I'd be playing Division I college basketball someday."
The reality of that latter dream has benefited all those around the Bay Shore, N.Y., native this season for the Liberty Flames. But McLean's path did not lead straight to Division I. For McLean, whose brother, Phil, ran track at St. John's, a two-year stop at Suffolk Community College was in order. At Suffolk, McLean averaged 8.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game his first year.
"I was really just getting used to organized basketball that first year," recalled McLean. "But that taste of it made me work hard and come back really strong my second season. That's when things really started happening for me."
McLean earned all-region and all-conference honors for the Long Island school that second season, averaging 18.1 points, 13.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.1 blocks per game. The breakthrough season earned McLean lots of attention from NCAA Division I schools, and he originally settled on Southeast Missouri State.
"I was all set to go to Southeast Missouri State, but they changed their minds," remembered McLean. "The day before classes were going to begin, they released me from my scholarship to take a transfer in from Oklahoma. It was discouraging at first, because playing at this level had been such a big dream of mine, and it felt like it was slipping through my grasp at that point."
But all was not lost for the talented big man. A connection from the coaching staff at Southeast Missouri State to the staff at Liberty put McLean in touch with Flames head coach Randy Dunton and his staff.
"We first heard about Alex in August of 2005 after Southeast Missouri State chose not to honor his scholarship," said Dunton. "We had just released Elijah Miller from our program, and we were really looking for the best available post player. Alex visited the campus here, and it was a nice fit for both parties involved."
"Liberty has everything I was looking for," said McLean. "I like the low-key atmosphere around the campus, and I really felt the school would bring some discipline into my life, and that discipline would make me a better and more successful person."
And at least from a basketball standpoint, the success has come early and often. In just his second week in a Liberty uniform, McLean dazzled the home crowds in the Vines Center with a double-double of 15 points and 15 rebounds in the home opener against Cincinnati Christian, and then scored a season-high 26 points just four nights later against Houghton, on 11-of-13 shooting. Both games were blowout wins for the Flames.
But the success didn't stop there. Two nights after the Houghton outburst, McLean notched his second double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds against Southern Virginia. Then, his 17 points and 11 rebounds against East Carolina helped Liberty to attain its first-ever victory over a Conference USA opponent.
Late December was a time of continued success for McLean, as he racked up three-consecutive double-doubles against Lipscomb, BYU and Seton Hall. In the Lipscomb contest, McLean was all over the boards, pulling down a Vines Center-record 17 rebounds to go along with 12 points. But for McLean, the rebounds have always meant more than the points.
"My job for this team is to be the most dominating low-post presence I can possibly be," said McLean after a 22-point, 13-rebound performance in a 122-117 Flames victory over VMI on January 27. "I'll work hard for the tough baskets down low, but the rebounds are what my team really needs from me each night. And, I'll always put my best out for every rebound."
All totaled, McLean, whose cousin, Garnett Thompson, is currently playing professional basketball in China, is averaging 13.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Flames. Those totals increase slightly in the games which matter most to McLean and his coaches and teammates, as he averages 15.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game against Big South Conference opponents. Overall, McLean has an impressive nine double-doubles to his credit during his first season of Division I college basketball.
"Alex is a really tough defender and rebounder who fights so hard for us on the inside," praised Dunton. "With as many double-doubles as he has had, you can certainly see his impact through the numbers. But from those numbers, you can also tell what a rare sort of hard worker he really is. Rebounding is about so much more than your feet or body position; it's primarily about heart and determination. Alex's rebounding numbers really speak about his commitment to working hard for us in the low post."
And so, the once-music scholar goes about whistling while he works, dominating down low throughout the Big South Conference. One is left to wonder what might have been for McLean had he gone about his original collegiate course with the music scholarship.
But for now, with a conductor named Dunton, and teammates such as Blair and Smith and Brewington playing along on the top half of the staff, McLean is content to play down low for the Flames, strumming along the proverbial bass clef as he and the rest of the Flames make sweet music out of their '06-'07 stanza.
Josh Keys is a student assistant in the Athletic Media Relations Office. He is also the girls' varsity basketball head coach at New Covenant Schools in Lynchburg.