When Mark McClam was hired to revive the Hammond boys basketball program in 2011, he was armed with a philosophy that took hold during his days as a player at the College of Charleston under legendary coach John Kresse.
“I was John’s first point guard when he took over (in 1979), and I saw first hand how he went about turning around a program that was down,” said McClam, a former Dreher standout who still holds the Cougars’ single-game assists record (14).
“He was a great marketer for his team at the school and in the community. He sold the players on his core coaching beliefs. And when the wins started coming, the demands he made on his players didn’t seem as tough as they were when we first got started.”
McClam brought “The Kresse Way” with him to Hammond.
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“Off the court, the goal was to sell the program again,” he said. “On the court, we wanted to play an up-tempo game under control, and make aggressive defense as the foundation of everything we do.”
The Skyhawks, who managed 12 wins in the two seasons prior to McClam’s arrival, took a big step up a year ago — finishing in the black (14-12) and winning a state tournament game for the first time in four years. This season, Hammond is off to its best start in six seasons at 14-3.
The highlight thus far was a 64-48 win before a packed house at Cardinal Newman on Friday — a victory that put the Skyhawks in the Region 1-3A driver’s seat.
“It was out best performance in terms on intensity and execution,” McClam said. “We’re learning that we can’t just show up and expect to beat everybody. We’ve had lapses that have forced us to come on strong and pull some games out at the end, or we’d let a lead slip away and have to hold on. We learned what is possible when we play as consistently as we did on Friday.”
Hammond’s key players are all relative newcomers.
Freshman star Seventh Woods, who is averaging 19.8 points per game and rang up 30 points in the win at Cardinal Newman, came on board last season. Woods averaged 14.6 points as an eight-grade varsity rookie.
Sophomore Xavier McDaniel (11.8 ppg., 5.6 rpg.) and junior Spencer Carlson (10.3 ppg.) are the latest additions. McDaniel, a 6-foot-4 sophomore and the son of Midlands basketball legend Xavier “X-Man” McDaniel, played at Spring Valley last season. Carlson, a 6-foot-4 junior who transferred from Minnesota in October, provides added size and scoring ability inside and out.
Sam Ulmer, the only senior in the starting lineup, and 6-foot-6 junior Cannon Smith, a football tight end who has committed to Clemson, round out the starting lineup.
“We have the pieces in place to have a special season,” McClam said. “We’ve put ourselves in position to do very well in the region and maybe even make a run at a championship down the stretch. The bottom line is we’ve made people excited about Hammond basketball again.”