United Tribes' McClain headed south to play D-I basketball

United Tribes Technical College's Rob McClain Jr., center, signed with NCAA Division I University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday. Also photographed are from left, UTTC president Dr. Leander "Russ" McDonald, Karrie Lasley, McClain Jr.'s mother, Rob McClain Sr., and Pete Conway, head men's basketball coach at United Tribes.
United Tribes Technical College's Rob McClain Jr., center, signed with NCAA Division I University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday. Also photographed are from left, UTTC president Dr. Leander "Russ" McDonald, Karrie Lasley, McClain Jr.'s mother, Rob McClain Sr., and Pete Conway, head men's basketball coach at United Tribes.

Rob McClain Jr. is a man with a plan, according to his college basketball coach, Pete Conway.

The latest step in that plan is playing NCAA Division I basketball.

The United Tribes Technical College standout signed with University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday, capping a whirlwind couple of years for the Red Lake, Minn., native. After originally committing to play NCAA Division III basketball in Minneapolis, McClain instead chose to come to Bismarck where he became one of the most decorated players ever at United Tribes.

 Up next, is playing for the Vaqueros, who play in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). UTRGV played among others last season NCAA Division I national tournament runner-up Texas Tech and fellow NCAA tourney teams Oklahoma and Houston. UTRGV had a record of 20-17 this past season.

"My goal was to play at the next level, whether that was Division I, Division II, NAIA, wasn't overly important. It was more about finding the right fit and I found that at Rio Grande Valley," McClain Jr. said on Wednesday. "(UTRGV) was pretty straight forward. They told me how things were going to be. They were really honest.

"I was able to go down there and meet a lot of the players, play in some open gyms with those guys. At the end of the day, it just felt like it was the best place for me."

McClain Jr. leaves United Tribes as the Thunderbirds' all-time leader in rebounds (693), blocks (115) and steals (180). The high-flying 6-foot-5 versatile performer is projected to play a wing spot for the Vaqueros.

He proved he could do it all for United Tribes. McClain Jr. averaged 18.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 blocks and 3.5 steals while shooting 65.8 as a freshman. He took it to even a higher level this season, going for 23.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per contest. He shot over 56 percent from the floor and nearly 40 percent from 3-point range.

"Rob's a special kid. He's got a great head on his shoulders. He always has a plan about what we wants to do," Conway said. "He's one of those guys that when he sets a goal, he's going to attain it."

McClain Jr. is the first player from United Tribes in the past 20 years to sign with a Division I university.

Many will remember McClain Jr. for his highlight reel dunks and being a double-double machine for the Thunderbirds. But there's far more to him than that. An enrolled member of the Muscogee Nation, he plans to study English education and journalism at UTRGV, located in McAllen, Texas.

"The community itself has lot of culture, a lot of diversity. That's something that was really appealing to me," he said.

Being a role model for young Native American athletes is something McClain Jr. embraces.

"A lot of small-town kids don't get opportunities like this and I'm very thankful for how everything worked out," he said. "Playing JUCO ball at United Tribes was a great place for me and now I'm just hoping to take advantage of this next opportunity."

Conway has no doubt he will.

"If you were to take a snapshot of what you'd want a student-athlete in college to be like, Rob is what you'd be looking for," Conway said. "Obviously, he's a phenomenal athlete and a great basketball player, but he also gets it done in the classroom.

"We're really proud of him. We're excited to watch what he does in the future."