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McClelland's basketball bona fides


By Tony Castleberry
The Daily Reflector

Monday, August 29, 2016

As much as he brings to the table from a pure training standpoint, Justin McClelland’s experience at two basketball powerhouses might be just as beneficial for East Carolina’s team.

McClelland, hired by ECU in May to take over strength and conditioning for men’s hoops, brings a wealth of knowledge acquired in the classroom, but the lessons he learned working at Villanova and Florida — two programs with national championship banners hanging in their gyms — probably resonate more with Pirate players than McClelland’s degrees.

The fact that McClelland also played collegiate basketball at Eastern University in St. David’s, Pa., almost certainly helps him identify with East Carolina’s players as they prepare for the season. Those combined experiences, along with a desire to be in charge of a team’s training, turned McClelland’s attention to ECU.

“I was at a point in my career where I was ready to take hold of a program because I had worked as an assistant in the past,” he said during an interview in the Murphy Center on Thursday morning. “To have my own team was definitely a step forward. I just got really good vibes throughout my interview process with (strength and conditioning boss Jeff) Connors, hearing what he had to say. ... It’s a great environment for me as a staff member and the athletes.”

McClelland takes over Pirate basketball strength and conditioning for Matt Slachetka, who left ECU after being hired in June 2014.

After interning at Villanova during the 2014-15 season, McClelland, who graduated from Eastern in 2011 before adding a master’s degree from California University of Pennsylvania, trained Florida’s basketball squad last season. Having that kind of pedigree made him stand out in a field of some 200 applicants, according to Connors.

“After I interviewed him, I knew right away that he was my No. 1 guy I wanted to have here and I think that (Pirate basketball) coach (Jeff) Lebo felt the same way,” Connors said. “I really love the fact that he was at Villanova. ... Justin is the most learned individual that we’ve had thus far in relationship to knowledge of basketball.”

Summer workouts have begun paying dividends for East Carolina’s players, who hope to improve on last season’s 12-19 record, the worst mark during Lebo’s tenure with the Pirates. Entering his seventh season in charge at ECU, Lebo communicates with McClelland on an almost-daily basis to gauge gains and losses the Pirates are making.

The players did not necessarily enter summer training out of shape, but they lifted weights four days a week under McClelland’s guidance before transitioning into smaller group workouts three times a week. Conditioning work will ramp up as the season nears, but McClelland is of the opinion that if ECU’s team carries its offseason approach into the fall and winter, the Pirates will be prepared, and not just physically.

“Sometimes when you’re coaching guys, you can see a lot of stuff and coach them on a lot of different things and it can get a little overwhelming to the athlete at times,” McClelland said. “They’ve crushed it, in my opinion. They’ve been a really good group. I think the biggest thing we’re working on is our mental toughness, staying locked in throughout the entire training session. That will correlate onto the court as well.”


Contact Tony Castleberry at tcastleberry@reflector.com, 252-329-9591 and follow @tcastleberrygdr on Twitter.