Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
Whenever Unique McLean goes up in the air, you know he’s primed for a highlight-reel play. It’s what he’s been doing since his middle school days, after all. His dunking ability has gotten him to SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays and also to college on a full athletic scholarship.
And now, it’s gotten him back home again, to the borough of Brooklyn. The 6-foot-2 shooting guard is now entering his third season of collegiate basketball, at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights after spending the past couple of seasons at the University of Massachusetts.
After being away for so long, he’s happy to be back home, where family, friends and mentors can come see him in action live and direct.
“What motivates me is, just you know, the love for the game,” said McLean about what inspires him to be successful on the court. “I’ve been playing it since I was seven, and I fell in love with it and never turned back.”
McLean hails from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, which is one of the most toughest, grittiest parts of the borough. When asked about being from the area and the borough, he replied, “I’m from Brownsville, but Brooklyn is always going to be [on top], and New York is going to be the mecca of basketball. So, it was instilled in me at a young age, and I’m always going to stick with it, and there’s a lot of players that come from New York, and they paved the way for me, and you know, I’m just trying to follow [in] their footsteps.”
When asked about the strengths and weaknesses in his game, he replied, “Strengths and weaknesses, stuff that they said I need to work on, people say, is my jumpshot, I’ve been doing that. My handle, being a better leader, I think I’ve made strides on all three of those things, so you know, I’m just trying to be a better player every day.”
During his middle school days, he was one of the most prominent players in the city, as he played with the Team Scan AAU program, in many tournaments around the country. As a high school freshman, he went off to the Hoosac School, a private, boarding school in Hoosick, New York, which is not too far from Albany.
Unlike many peers from around the way that stayed in the city, McLean expanded his horizons on the court and in the classroom and gained experiences that most kids from an urban environment are usually not privy to.
When asked about the prep school experience at both Hoosac and later, the MacDuffie School in Granby, Massachusetts, he replied, “Those schools, molded me into the person I am. I think if I hadn’t went to those places, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. They gave me a great opportunity and I’m grateful for those coaches that [have] seen something in me and allowed me to be in their institution, and you know, strive from there.”
On playing for the PSA Cardinals, (formerly known as Team Scan) during his high school years, he replied, “They’ve done a lot for me, you know, they like, they’ve put me in a position, that I’d never thought I’d be in. You know, they gave me these outlets of meeting new coaches and putting me in the greatest schools they could think of, in the NEPSAC, and I’m grateful for those guys. They’ve always got my back, you know they’re my brothers.”
During his junior season of high school, McLean made a splash on the national scene as his dunk during a dunk contest at the Mary Kline Classic went viral and made it to ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 plays.
When asked what’s the secret to his leaping ability, he replied, “I have no secret, it’s been something that’s just been there since I was a kid. No secret at all.”
After having many collegiate offers from many mid-major schools, McLean settled on UMass. In his first year in Amherst, he sat out as a redshirt. In the following two seasons, he would receive minimial playing time, averaging 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 28 games for the Minutemen. However, he used his time wisely in the classroom and was able to graduate in three years with a his bachelor’s degree this past spring.
When asked about his time at UMass and what it meant to be a college graduate, he replied, “It’s a great experience going away and going to a huge university that you’re not accustomed to and it’s in a small town in Amherst and there’s nothing to do there, but there’s a lot of students and there’s a lot of activities to do. But I pretty much stayed focused and I was able to graduate in three years, and I think that was my biggest accomplishment so far.”
In July, with two years of collegiate eligibility remaining, he decided to attend St. Francis, where he is currently a graduate student taking graduate courses. When asked about coming home, he replied, “Coming home was a great opportunity for me to be with my family, and finally be home since I was a kid, so I think it was the best opportunity for me, and play for my state and show what I could actually do.”
In his first game on November 5th against Fordham, he had 13 points and eight rebounds in the Terriers’ 68-59 loss. So far, he has been averaging 9.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and is getting comfortable in his new situation.
Two people on the Terriers bench are there to guide him in every step of the way. The first is Glenn Braica, who is in his 10thseason as the head coach at St. Francis and also Jamaal Womack, the assistant coach, who also played at the school from 2005 to 2009 and is also a part of the program’s 1,000-point club. McLean and Womack also share a special relationship as McLean once played for Womack during his middle school days at the old Team Scan.
When asked about playing for Braica, he replied, “He’s doing an excellent job, he’s very intense, you know, he tries to get the best out of his players, and that’s someone I needed, someone that’s positive and wants his players to succeed and his team to succeed, so I was happy for making this decision [to come to St. Francis].”
On playing for Womack again, he replied, “You know, that’s the connection right there, that’s like my guy, he’s always going to be a mentor to me, and I’m grateful to be a part of another situation with him, and you know, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
When asked what he brings to the Terriers this season, he replied, “That’s a great question, leadership, playing hard, scoring, rebounding, you know, just a presence on the floor.”
Now with two seasons left to play, McLean plans to make the most of the new opportunity that he has been given to play at his new home. He is now one of the elder statesmen of the team, given his experience at UMass, but also one of the new guys on the team. Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to come back home after being away for a long time.