Former Illini assistant coach Wayne McClain dies at 59
Wayne McClain, the former Illinois assistant men’s basketball coach and standout high school coach, died Wednesday. He was 59.
McClain died at a hospital in Urbana after a brief, unspecified illness, Champaign Central High School Principal Joe Williams said. McClain had coached Central’s boys basketball team since last season.
Before spending several years as an assistant coach at Illinois, McClain made his reputation at Peoria Manual High School, where he started as an assistant coach in 1977 and guided three teams to state titles in his first three seasons as head coach in the mid-1990s. He also helped maintain a pipeline of Peoria basketball talent to the Illini.
Kansas coach Bill Self hired McClain as an assistant at Illinois in 2002. He said Wednesday that McClain was "one of the best people I ever met."
"Very few people combine honesty, toughness and certainly a passion for people like Wayne did," Self said in an emailed statement. "I had the opportunity to work with him and to be around many of the young men that he has coached and worked with. Not only was he their coach, but he was also a father figure to all of them."
McClain stayed at Illinois until 2012, ending his tenure there as an associate head coach under Bruce Weber. He followed Weber to Kansas State to become director of student-athlete development, a role McClain held for one season before returning to Illinois to coach at Champaign Central.
Weber spoke to McClain’s legacy in a statement Wednesday.
"To me, he goes down as an icon for basketball in the state of Illinois, whether it is in high school with the four state championships or helping Illinois win four Big Ten championships and advance to the Final Four," he said.
One of the Peoria players who went to Illinois, Jerrance Howard, called McClain a father figure.
"He taught us to compete in life. He stressed being on time and I know I wouldn’t have graduated or got a coaching job at the University of Illinois if it wasn’t for Coach McClain," Howard, currently an assistant coach at Kansas and a former assistant at Illinois, said in an email.
In his only season at Central, McClain took a team to the playoffs and set tough, new standards for his players on the court and in school, Williams said.
"He had really, really, really high expectations, and he never wavered in those expectations," Williams said. "We’re going to miss him a lot."
Central’s players were shocked by the news, Williams said. McClain’s son Sergio, who was a former Illinois player and 1997 Illinois Mr. Basketball, met with the team Wednesday, Williams said.