Saturday, February 25, 2012

McMillan finds a home at nearby Hofstra

On the surface, the Dwan McMillan story is not all that unusual: Talented guard ends up playing basketball for a school that has been watching him since he was in elementary school.

Except—well, let McMillan tell the tale.

“Coach David Duke recruited me since I was 11 years old,” McMillan said, referring to the longtime Hofstra assistant who is now with Tom Pecora at Fordham. “I came here with Terrell Holloway and my little brother and we all watched them open this [arena] in 2000 with Speedy and all those guys.

“I’m like ‘I’m not going to Hofstra, it’s too close,’ because my Dad lives five minutes away from here. So I was like ‘I’m never coming here.’”

And so of course McMillan will be one of three seniors honored at Senior day today prior to the Flying Dutchmen’s game against UNC Wilmington. “As soon as they leave, I come to Hofstra,” McMillan said with a grin. “It was an ironic situation. I’m just happy to be here.”

McMillan landed at Hofstra thanks to plenty of twists of fate, the last of which impacted two McMillans and was directly connected to Pecora and his staff leaving for Fordham. Devon “Fatty” McMillan, Dwan’s younger brother, signed with Hofstra as a high school senior in the fall of 2009 and followed Pecora to Fordham the following spring.

At that point, Dwan was finishing his sophomore season at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa and planning to attend Iowa State. But Cyclones head coach Greg McDermott departed for Creighton on Apr. 27, 33 days after Pecora was introduced at Fordham.

Dwan McMillan thought he was following McDermott to Nebraska, but the Brooklyn native decided to head back home and ended up at Hofstra thanks to the dominoes that continued to fall after Pecora’s exit. Freshman point guard Chaz Williams transferred shortly after Mo Cassara took over for Tim Welsh and McMillan filled the void thanks to an assist from Allen Griffin, a close friend of the McMillan family.

“He’s like an uncle to me and like a son to my Dad,” McMillan said. “I felt I was at home and it’s turned out to be a good decision. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

McMillan feels the same way about the entire collegiate experience, one in which he has had to surmount plenty of hurdles. McMillan originally committed to South Florida out of St. Benedict’s in New Jersey, but learned he wasn’t eligible thanks to a snafu with the NCAA Clearinghouse (gee, sound familiar?) after he’d already moved to the Tampa campus and begun taking part in summer classes and conditioning. McMillan spent his freshman year at Miami-Dade Community College before heading to Iowa as a sophomore.

Adjusting to life at the junior college level after getting a taste of the Big East was challenging. “Everything was so good, that’s what I got used to,” McMillan said. “Then when I had to go to JUCO, it was a totally different experience. It’s tough, you’ve got to be mentally tough to come back from that and still be playing.

“I’m just grateful. A lot of people in my situation from JUCO haven’t made it to Division I. A lot of them go to NAIA, drop out or go Division II.”

McMillan’s time at Hofstra hasn’t been easy, either. He started the first 11 games last season before suffering a season-ending eye injury just after the point at which he was no longer eligible for a medical redshirt. Stevie Mejia opened this season as the starting point guard, but McMillan ended up back in the lineup when Mejia suffered a hamstring injury Thanksgiving weekend.

McMillan became the Dutchmen’s leader, on and off the court, in Mejia’s absence. In addition to ranking second in the CAA in assists and third in assist-to-turnover ratio, McMillan has also brought a swagger to an otherwise quiet team. He’s the player who leads the pregame huddle following the introduction of starting lineups and who keeps things loose during games, either by turning into the guy other fans love to target during games—at Drexel two weeks ago, McMillan turned and laughed at the notoriously rabid Dragons fans just before inbounding the ball underneath the Hofstra basket—or by making teammates laugh with his own quirks, such as asking the referee to let him hold the basketball before he shoots a free throw. (He said it’s not a superstition, just a way to dry his hands off before shooting.)

“I just try to have fun out there, because this is a humbling and grateful experience to even be playing college basketball,” McMillan said. “I try to take everything in and try to grasp it and try to have fun with it. This is my last go-around, I don’t want to be walking around angry. Just trying to have fun with it and show my teammates how to be loose.”

While McMillan’s collegiate career is down to a handful of games at most, he plans to continue bringing his infectious brand of energy to basketball teams, both on the floor and on the sideline.

“I’m going to play until the wheels fall off,” McMillan said. “I want to be a coach one day—not in college, it’s too tough, I’d be a high school coach. I just love the game of basketball. And the game of basketball has helped me get to college, get a degree, just have fun. I’m just so grateful for the situation that I’m in.”

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