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Gonzaga Basketball

Eric McClellan’s philosophy: ‘Get back out there’

Gonzaga guard Eric McClellan, working on his foul shots during practice on Thursday at the United Center in Chicago, has been a sparkplug for the Zags in their postseason run. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

CHICAGO – Eric McClellan was alone in his Las Vegas hotel room and he had something to say.

Gonzaga had knocked off top-seeded Saint Mary’s a few hours earlier to win the WCC tournament and clinch the program’s 18th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. The Zags’ up-and-down regular season was in the rear-view mirror.

McClellan knows about ups and downs. His background story is well known, in part because he’s addressed it in interviews since the day he committed to Gonzaga in June 2014.

His tear ducts were wide open following the WCC championship game, which capped an emotional week in which he was repeatedly asked to recount his dismissal from Vanderbilt for an undisclosed academic violation and a misdemeanor theft charge.

“I was sitting there with the TV off thinking to myself, I can’t believe I’m here. It’s so surreal to have everything pan out the way it did,” McClellan said. “I wanted to get something off my chest, off my heart.”

So he posted a picture of himself making a snow angel on the confetti-covered Orleans Arena court and authored a lengthy Instagram message that began: “2½ years ago I lost everything. Basketball, my education, etc. I didn’t know what my next move was. A lot of people shook on me.”

McClellan explained how he had vowed to make the most of it if given a second chance, and he expressed his appreciation to Gonzaga for helping him turn his life around.

“I’ve never shied away from my past and my journey because everything I’ve been through helped mold me into the man I am. I just wanted to share that with everybody,” McClellan said. “I was in a pretty dark place and time in my life. I knew what the end goal was and I promised myself I would do it if I had another opportunity.”

McClellan’s play has been instrumental in Gonzaga’s run to the WCC tournament title and in two NCAA tournament wins. The senior guard, who has averaged 18.4 points since the calendar turned to March, could be a key figure again in Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 showdown with No. 10 Syracuse.

He’ll be expected to contribute at the offensive end and will likely draw the defensive assignment on Syracuse leading scorer Michael Gbinije.

“A lot of athletes don’t get these types of opportunities,” McClellan said. “This is the accumulation of a lot of things, good fortune, a lot of hard work.”

And, he says, a second chance.

“My message in that post was to get back out there,” McClellan said. “Life is going to throw punches at you, adversity, and you have to respond.”

McClellan said the feedback has been overwhelming. He heard from kids, parents, GU students, basketball players, friends back home, a third-grade classmate, people he hadn’t seen in a decade.

“I had so many kids commenting on my page about how they were inspired by it,” McClellan said. “That warms my heart.”