Inside the Spurs’ loss to the Pacers, another Popovich disciple awaits

By Jabari Young

SAN ANTONIO – Gregg Popovich knew right away what ailed his team following the first home loss of the season at the hands of the Indiana Pacers.

The Spurs allowed the Pacers to shoot 53.1 percent (17-of-32) from 3, at times allowing their opponent wide open looks from beyond the arc that they mostly converted and had no answers for the Pacers’ ball movement which led to 34 assists.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Popovich said. “Both ends of the court, we know that, especially defensively. We’re defensively challenged, so to speak, until we figure it out.”

Not much to see here. Pacers 116, Spurs 96.

But one individual who watched closely from the second row of the Pacers’ bench: David McClure.

“It’s interesting,” McClure said before he departed AT&T Center. “It was nice to see our guys come out and play well. But I know the Spurs will bounce back. Coming off of a West Coast trip and just figuring some things out. … They are going to be formidable.”

If McClure’s name sounds familiar, it should. He is the former Duke University standout who spent time playing with the then Austin Toros (2009-10) before shifting his career overseas to Lithuania, which ended in May 2014.

Following six knee surgeries, two of which came on both knees after his final season in Lithuania, the 32-year-old reached out to the Spurs to seek opportunities, knowing his playing days were coming to an end.

Sure, McClure could’ve kept playing, but he was warned by doctors the pain he felt in his knees would continue. After former Spurs video coordinator Ben Sullivan took a job with the Atlanta Hawks, a door to Popovich’s coaching tree opened for McClure in September 2014.

Throughout the Spurs organization, McClure gained nothing but praise for his work on the player development front. Though he spent hours scouting the team before Wednesday’s game, he couldn’t help but recall his time with the Spurs, and why head coach Nate McMillan trusted him to lead the player development program the Pacers established two years ago.

“First thing I let him know is that I would do whatever he needed me to do,” McClure said. “I said I would be flexible. How he sees the game he wants to play, I’m going to work on that and try to create some drills and skillset packages for these guys to fit the offense he’s trying to make.”

When analyzing McClure’s role with the Pacers, you think of former Spurs player development/assistant coach Chad Forcier, now a lead assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies, and current Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland.

McClure is responsible for assisting players further their game. Whether it’s techniques with shooting, footwork, or expanding on current skillsets, the Pacers depend on him to improve the roster behind the scenes.

While in Indiana, he’s worked with former Pacer Paul George, now with Oklahoma City, and current players Myles Turner (10 points, six rebounds, two blocks against the Spurs on Wednesday) and Thad Young (14 points and five rebounds). But the biggest challenge came when his coaching career commenced in San Antonio.

David McClure during his playing days with Duke in 2007. (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

After accepting the position of player development coach, and also serving as a video coordinator for assistant Ime Udoka, McClure was responsible for assisting Manu Ginobili to recover from a stress fracture in his right leg following the team’s 2014 championship.

Before the season started, McClure would play Ginobili one-on-one almost every day for 20 minutes. It was there he earned his coaching stripes the hard way.

Then age 37, Ginobili would use McClure to get back into game shape, working with the Connecticut native in efforts to start the 2014-15 season on time with no setbacks. McClure received a four-week basketball lesson from a future Hall a Famer.

“I can only imagine what he was like at 27,” McClure said of Ginobili. “I’d force him into a (tough) shot and not (contest), and he’d hit it. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this guy can hit that shot. Next time I got to jump.’ And then he had me on a yo-yo.

“When a guy like Manu embraces you and can vouch for you,” McClure continued, “it helps you get your ear with the rest of the guys.”

One reason the Spurs were attracted to McClure was his court presence with players. Having been a player himself, McClure is relatable and knows how to pass on the Spurs’ cooperative knowledge on the coaching front.

“He’s a hard worker,” Popovich said. “He absorbed things very quickly. He really established his respect with good relationships with everybody. A sharp young man.”

Asked the biggest lesson he’s learned from Engelland, who he’s known since his days roaming the grounds at Duke, McClure said: “It’s not about you, It’s about them (the players). You’re not a player anymore. When they come into the gym every day, it’s on us to make them want to come into the gym every day. No one is going to get better if they feel like it’s pulling teeth.

“As much as you hammer home principles and technique, you have to make it fun for them but also don’t let them do what they want to do,” he said. “Teach them at the same time. I feel like whenever you see a workout with Chip, the guys are truly engaged but they want to be there. That’s what we’re trying to build here.”

And McClure’s takeaways working with Forcier: “Don’t just be a pitching coach out there,” McClure said. “A lot of guys are looking for you to kind of rebound the ball and pass it back to them. Sometimes the best thing that they need is somebody to be in their ear and kind of remind them, ‘Hey, you need to do this. Hey, you have to do that. You got to be sharp.’ … We have to keep them sharp just like we need the coaches above us to keep us sharp sometimes.”

As McClure watched his current boss, McMillan, coach the Pacers to a win over the Spurs, he continued to study. McClure knows he’s a long way off from standing in McMillan or Popovich’s spot, but he’s enjoying the process.

Around the NBA, his name is still gaining momentum, but those who know him and what he brings to the table will not be surprised if he’s on the front row as an assistant coach and possible head coach one day.

“He’ll do whatever he wants,” said Spurs GM R.C. Buford.

The thing is, McClure is in no rush.

“I love the position I’m in,” McClure said. “Down the road, work my way up, get on the bench, and then you never know. I would definitely not be opposed to it once I feel like it was the right opportunity. But again, right now, I just take it a day at a time and try to get another win for our team.”