Unaware whether or not his high school basketball career was finished, University High guard KJ McClurg committed to New Hampshire in April 2020 without so much as taking an official visit to the America East Conference school.
McClurg, at that time trying to balance his future and the idea of leading the Hawks to consecutive Class AAA championships, made it official with UNH later that month by signing his National Letter of Intent.
It put an end to a lengthy recruiting process — one that originally had McClurg committed to Niagara before the resignation of former head coach Patrick Beilein.
“I was in talks with New Hampshire as soon as Niagara got out of the picture,” McClurg recalled. “They really liked me and made me feel like I was their top priority. Everything they had to offer with school, basketball and bringing me into a building program that’s looking to win, I thought it was a perfect fit for me.”
Seven games into the Wildcats’ 2020-2021 campaign, McClurg is making an impact as a freshman. He has played in five of New Hampshire’s seven contests (missing two due to injury) and is scoring seven points per game, while playing 16 minutes on average. McClurg has made all 13 of his free throw attempts this season.
The 6-foot-4 guard started the first two games, scoring eight points in his debut against Keene State and pouring in a team-high 18 against Bryant.
“It was definitely a big change with the pace and guarding players just as good if not better than you every night is something that’s eye opening, but I love the challenge,” McClurg said. “It makes me work harder every day. I’m getting more confident. Confidence is big in this game. Everyone can play, so whoever is more confident and whoever puts the time in is really going to succeed.”
Veteran UNH head coach Bill Herrion, the Wildcats’ all-time leader in wins, is happy to have landed McClurg as part of last year’s recruiting class.
“My son Ryan is on my staff here and he had seen him play some. Last year, we were looking for a combo guard who could play some point guard and play off the ball as well,” Herrion said. “My younger brother Tom was (a previous head coach) at Marshall and a couple other coaches gave KJ’s name to us from seeing him play AAU. When he got out of the commitment from Niagara, we jumped back in and fortunately we got him. We’re happy he’s here.”
Herrion was impressed with McClurg’s body of work at UHS, which included scoring averages of more than 20 points as a junior and senior. McClurg, a second-team all-state selection as a junior and first-team honoree last season, helped lead University to the 2019 state championship. The Hawks never got to finish out their quest for a repeat, but were chosen the top seed ahead of last year’s state tournament, which didn’t play out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We love players that come from really successful high school programs and they were really well-coached,” Herrion said. “Any time you get kids that come from successful programs and know how to win, that’s a plus.”
Although McClurg made a strong initial impression at UNH, the Wildcats didn’t play a game between December 7-26 due to COVID-19 issues within the program.
UNH returned to game action Dec. 27 and beat Hartford in consecutive days, though McClurg didn’t play in either contest. During a practice, the newcomer injured his right wrist while attempting to take a charge.
Feared to have suffered a broken wrist, McClurg was fortunate to discover it was a “really bad sprain”, according to Herrion. Still, the injury kept McClurg out of two games, though he has since returned and played a combined 18 minutes in two matchups with Maine last weekend.
“I had to take a little bit of time off because of the wrist, but I’m getting back to full strength,” McClurg said. “It’s kind of amazing where I’m at today and how much better and more confident I’ve gotten.”
With the Wildcats (4-3, 3-1) in the heart of America East play, McClurg hopes to continue making an impact as his freshman season progresses, regardless of where it may be.
“I’ve played both point and shooting guard, but whatever gets me on the court I’ll play,” McClurg said. “The point guard position, you have to be a leader on the court. Every day going between playing the one and two is opening my eyes at the college level and giving me a great steppingstone to build off of.”
As McClurg gets closer to full strength, Herrion expects him to fill a much-needed role for the Wildcats while continuing to gain valuable experience.
“We’re not a great 3-point shooting team statistically and he’s one of our better perimeter shooters, so we need him to make shots,” Herrion said. “He’s in the mix and we think he has a chance to have a great career for us. He’s very skilled and knows how to play. He’s tough. At New Hampshire, those kind of kids fit in really well with us.”