With three Division I basketball programs in the Lowcountry, it’s difficult to imagine a homegrown mid-major talent escaping the clutches of The Citadel, College of Charleston and Charleston Southern.
But former West Ashley High School star Tre’ McLean is definitely one who got away.
McLean, now a 6-5 redshirt junior at Chattanooga, will make a homecoming of sorts on Saturday when the high-flying Mocs play The Citadel at McAlister Field House.
McLean’s mom, Lisa McLean, has been burning up the phone lines to The Citadel’s ticket office, and there could be as many as 100 McLean supporters on hand for Saturday’s 1 p.m. game.
Among them will be West Ashley coach Ronnie DuPre, who watched McLean blossom into an all-state player who led the Wildcats to a 20-6 record and the third round of the Class AAAA playoffs as a senior.
McLean averaged 16.2 points and was picked for the North-South All-Star Game, but had to settle for a scholarship offer from Division II Queens University in Charlotte.
“I’d say he was a kid who committed before he really blossomed as a player,” DuPre said. “He committed early to Queens because he took an early visit there and liked the staff. It was his first visit, and he fell in love with it and was completely content with a Division II offer.”
But the coach at Queens, Wes Long, saw something more than a D-II player in McLean, who averaged 5 points and 5.1 rebounds in his freshman season in 2012-13. When Long left Queens to join coach Will Wade’s staff at Chattanooga, he convinced McLean to come with him.
After sitting out the 2013-14 season -- during which he made the Athletic Director’s and SoCon honor roll academically -- McLean averaged 4.3 points and 3.0 rebounds for the Mocs last year.
This season, with coaches Long and Wade gone to VCU, McLean has come into his own under new coach Matt McCall. He’s started all 13 games and is averaging 9.2 points and 5 rebounds for the 11-2 Mocs, preseason favorites in the Southern Conference.
McLean had 11 points and seven rebounds in an 81-77 win over Illinois, and scored 18 points against Alabama State and 19 against Tennessee Tech. With preseason SoCon player of the year Casey Jones out with an ankle injury over the last five games, McLean has stepped up his game to average 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds over that span.
“I’ve been extremely impressed with Tre’s approach each and every day,” said McCall, a former assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida. “I remember meeting with him on my second day here, and we just hit it off. Last year, he was thought of as kind of a defensive stopper because of his length and athleticism.
“But I think he’s so much more than that. He’s a weapon on the offensive end, he’s got a great basketball IQ, and we’ve played him every where from one (point guard) to four (big forward). He’s really been locked in from the day I got here and has had a huge impact on our team.”
As McLean comes home, he says he doesn’t really have anything to prove to the hometown teams.
“At the time I was coming out of high school, nobody really knew me,” he said. “So I wouldn’t say, ‘See what you missed.’ It happens, and I’m just blessed to be able to come back to my hometown and play. I’m glad it worked out this way.”
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: McAlister Field House
NOTES: The Citadel begins Southern Conference play against preseason favorite Chattanooga, which has won six straight and boasts victories over Georgia, Illinois and Dayton ... The Mocs have lost only at Iowa State and at Louisiana Monroe ... Preseason SoCon player of the year Casey Jones has missed the Mocs’ last five games with an ankle injury, and it’s unclear if or when he’ll return this season ... Seven different players have led the Mocs in scoring this season, including West Ashley High School product Tre’ McLean, who is averaging 9.2 points and 5 rebounds ... The Citadel has lost its last two, at Campbell and at Charlotte, and is playing at home for the first time since Dec. 8 ... The RPI ranking at warrennolan.com has Chattanooga at No. 31 and The Citadel at No. 278 ... The Bulldogs are at Samford on Tuesday, then play their next three games at home against Mercer, Wofford and Furman.