Mac McClung dunks during a Gate City High School basketball game. He graduated from the Scott County school in 2018. Photo courtesy of Gate City High School.
Mac McClung dunks during a Gate City High School basketball game. He graduated from the Scott County school in 2018. Photo courtesy of Gate City High School.

During his years as a star player on the Gate City High basketball team, Mac McClung — who seized the NBA’s slam dunk contest in spectacular style while wearing the Blue Devils jersey on Feb. 18 — put many miles of wear and tear on the floor of the school’s gym.

So it seems appropriate that the money made by the subsequent sale of replica jerseys like the one he wore will be used to refurbish the floor of the gym at the Scott County school, where he honed his skills.

Principal Scott Vermillion — who was head coach of the basketball team when McClung played there — didn’t know that his former player planned to don his high school jersey while going for the fourth and final dunk, but he said he wasn’t surprised.

Mac McClung dunks during a Gate City High School game. Photo courtesy of Gate City High School.

“When he was little, he always dreamed of putting Gate City on the map, so to speak. He said that many times and he’s doing it,” Vermillion said.

Through Vermillion, McClung provided a comment about why he chose to wear the jersey during his big moment.

“Anytime I can rep my hometown I will. It helped mold me to the person I am today. Being from a hometown where money or fame doesn’t matter, but how you treat people and kindness,” wrote McClung, who said in an interview after his win that he planned to place the trophy in the Gate City Middle School gym, where it all started.

Following the contest, Vermillion received a couple of inquiries about buying the jerseys and he quickly recognized an opportunity to capitalize on McClung’s show of school spirit by selling replicas of the shirt, which Vermillion designed in 2014, as a fundraiser. But before moving forward, he sought and received McClung’s blessing, who was all for the idea as long as the money was used for the school, the principal said.

As of Wednesday night, more than 1,000 replica jerseys, at $50 each, and more than 1,000 T-shirts, at $20 each, had been sold, according to Vermillion. Sales have now slowed and the order will be turned in on Sunday, so those who want one need to order now. He said there may be a second order, but the price will likely be higher because he negotiated an excellent deal on the first batch.

McClung, 24, a 6-foot-2-inch point guard, graduated in 2018, the same year the school’s basketball team won the state championship. Four days before he dazzled in the slam dunk competition, he was signed to a two-way contract by the Philadelphia 76ers, which means he can go back and forth between the NBA and its developmental G League, where he’s been playing.

Dress like Mac

If you’re interested in buying a replica Gate City High School basketball jersey like the one Mac McClung wore while winning the NBA slam dunk contest, time is running out. The town will take orders until Sunday, March 5.

Jerseys are $50, T-shirts are $20.

Order through this Google form:

Prior to turning pro, he played two seasons for Georgetown University, then went to Texas Tech for one season.

Naturally, McClung and his athleticism have garnered a lot of attention since he became the slam dunk champion, even earning a mention on “Saturday Night Live” on Feb. 25.

Former NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal has credited the boyish McClung with saving the contest, which has been less popular and drawn fewer big names in recent years.

The Monday after the contest, longtime state Del. Terry Kilgore, who is from Gate City, wasted no time in singing McClung’s praises from the floor of the General Assembly.

Kilgore saw the competition at a watch party held at the Gate City High gym, where the crowd went “crazy” when McClung stopped to pull on his blue high school jersey, he said.

YouTube video
Del. Terry Kilgore talks about Mac McClung on the floor of the House on Feb. 20.

“Now, it was fitting for Mac to wear his high school jersey because he’s been a household name in Gate City for years,” the House speaker said. “While playing for Gate City, his talent and acrobatic dunk drew the attention of packed crowds and college scouts — it was hard to get into a game. During those times, he broke the single-season Virginia High School League scoring record … and capped off his high school career by winning Gate City’s first state championship, which some of y’all in this room attended.”

Gate City, which is near the Tennessee border, had a population of 1,908 in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Kilgore joked that it may be time to change the town sign that declares it the home of (former) Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, his twin, to say it’s the home of the NBA slam dunk champion.

This week, Kilgore said the town will come together and do something to recognize McClung and his accomplishments, but nothing has been done yet.

The money raised from the sale of the jerseys and T-shirts will be used to refurbish and paint the gym floor, which hasn’t been done since 1997, according to Vermillion. He said he has received two quotes for the work, one for $27,500 and the other for $40,000. Although he doesn’t expect to raise enough to totally cover that cost, he expects it will “put a big dent in it.”

Vermillion, who was a coach for 23 years, 18 at Gate City, before resigning to take on the role of principal in 2021, fondly remembers McClung as the best basketball player he ever worked with.

“He’s the real deal,” he said. “We knew from early on that he had the ‘it factor,’ and wherever Mac goes and whatever he sets his mind to, he does. And you know the slam dunk competition and his winning, that was surprising to a lot of people, but not folks down here necessarily. We all know what he could do, obviously, and he’s just an exceptional athlete. We’re proud of him.”

Susan Cameron is a reporter for Cardinal News. She has been a newspaper journalist in Southwest Virginia...