McClure a Big Shot (Blocker) for WSU
RECORD SETTER: Tenino Native, W.F. West Product Nike McClure’s 12 Blocks Against Colorado Set Cougar Record
By Aaron VanTuyl
Nike McClure is still, literally and figuratively, a big deal.
The 2014 W.F. West High School graduate moved into the starting lineup for Washington State University’s women’s basketball team midway through this season and made headlines on Saturday night in a 67-56 Pac-12 win over Colorado.
The 6-foot-3 forward scored 6 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked 12 shots — the last of which set a program record and tied a 29-year-old conference mark.
McClure said she had no idea what her stat line looked like until, with about 4 minutes left in the game, teammate Chanelle Molina grabbed her by the shoulder and offered an update: 11 blocks, 10 rebounds and 6 points, leaving her two buckets shy of the first-ever Cougar triple double.
“Now I have a pretty good grasp of where I’m at in terms of stats,” she said. “I tried to go a little harder — I had the opportunity to, but your girl isn’t doing too well with her layups right now.”
If McClure would have had her way, though, she would have been coming off the bench against the Buffs.
McClure, a redshirt sophomore, asked WSU coach June Daugherty to pull her from the starting lineup in favor of Ivana Kmetovska, the Cougs’ lone senior, in the final home game of the season.
“I can just tell you when she offers her starting position, that she’s earned and worked so hard for, that’s amazing on her part,” WSU coach June Daugherty said in a postgame press conference. “She just wanted to make sure we sent Iva out right.”
Kmetovska’s father had flown in from Macedonia for the game.
“I’m a redshirt sophomore, so I have a ton of time left to do the things I want to do,” McClure said. “But she said she felt she needed to earn it, rather than someone to just give it to her. But I tried.”
Colorado went with a smaller lineup in the game, which meant a lot of forays to the hoop — where McClure was waiting.
“We knew they were going to go to the rim hard. They’ve got a lot of speed and quickness with those guards,” Daugherty said. “And it’s tough when she’s looming around like she was looming around today. You know, I think that changes a lot of of people’s shots, and of course she ran some out off the corners, too.”
McClure moved into the starting lineup for the Cougs’ Jan. 29 game against Cal, and has been a starter since. On the season she’s averaging 6.2 rebounds and 4.2 points a game, along with 57 blocked shots — nearly half of the team’s program-record 131 swats this season. It’s a vast improvement over her redshirt freshman year, when she started just three games and said she was a bit hesitant on the court after a torn ACL led to two major knee surgeries and a redshirt year in 2014-15.
“So, my redshirt freshman year, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my game, as far as jumping around other people,” she said. “Last year I just played with a lot of fear as far as getting injured again.”
Offseason work with trainers helped rebuild her confidence, and the results have shown up on the court. She hasn’t, however, tried dunking — which she did in high school — since the injury.
“When I do try to jump higher than I normally do, I get crazy knee pains,” she said. “I can grab rim with both hands, but I haven’t tried (dunking) in forever. I give myself one more summer of work, and then maybe I’ll start trying again.”
McClure’s majoring in communications and broadcasting, with a minor in sports management, and helps coach high school track in the spring.
“I want to hopefully go into broadcasting, and maybe do a little work internship with the Pac-12 (network) or something like that,” she said. “But at the end of my career, I plan to play pro ball, if not here than overseas. Broadcasting’s kind of a fallback thing when my knees give out on me.”
McClure has, naturally, been checking up on (and rooting for) her old prep team this season. The Bearcats tip off in the State 2A tournament at 9 p.m. on Thursday, three hours after WSU tips off against Colorado at KeyArena in the Pac-12 tournament.
“Yes! My girls made it to the state tournament!” she said.
She’s also plenty familiar with Bearcat coach Tom Kelly, who was the coach of rival Centralia during McClure’s one varsity season with W.F. West. Before a rivalry game in the Hub City she painted a larger-than-life placard of Kelly’s face, which a classmate held up in the student section during the game.
“We always had that little high school rivalry, but I would have loved to play for Tom. That man is something else,” she said. “I’m not taking anything away from (former Bearcat coach) Henri Weeks, but I would have loved to see where our season would have headed under Tom Kelly’s coaching. I’m excited for him to be there coaching all those girls. They’re really lucky.”
McClure played for Kelly in an AAU tournament during high school, and compared the sometimes wandering nature of his lectures and conversations to those of a certain Pullman-based coach.
“He kind of reminds me Mike Leach, I’m not gonna lie,” she said, adding that she’s run into Leach on a few occasions.
“He’s a funny dude,” she said. “I don’t really care much for Geronimo or pirates, so our conversations are short.”
McClure was also happy with the increased attention for her chosen sport in the wake of University of Washington guard Kelsey Plum scoring 57 points against Utah on Saturday to break the NCAA career scoring record.
“What she did was just incredible in terms of getting more media coverage and more fans into women’s basketball,” she said. “A lot of people view our sport as kind of a joke compared to the men’s side.”
She also had plenty of praise for Plum, who averaged 30.9 points a game in the regular season — the best mark in the nation by over 5 points a game.
“She has really great basketball smarts,” she said. “I haven’t played against someone who is as witty as her in terms of basketball.”
McClure compared Plum, after pondering it for a moment, to Sherlock Holmes.
“Like how he can pause time, and see stuff in the future? I low-key think she can do that,” she said. “They need to do a test on her. It’s crazy.”