When a player is good enough to be a central figure in college basketball's championship game, an advanced degree in professional ``hoopology'' often seems the next step. For some, however, the basketball music fades quickly, as it has for Gary McLain, the spunky little floor general who led Villanova to a dramatic upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA title game. Happily, McLain was realistic enough to know that a career in pro sports might not pan out, and he moved in a new direction when it became necessary to do so.
Today he works on Wall Street as a broker for RMJ Securities, specializing in the sale of Treasury bonds.
``I didn't really envision myself doing this,'' he conceded during his trip to this year's Final Four tournament. But he also noted that while he had ``a lot of heart and enthusiasm for the game,'' he hadn't harbored too many illusions about his pro prospects.
``From Day One I knew I couldn't jump out of the gym or shoot the eyes out of the ball,'' said McLain, who at 6 feet even is also relatively small by National Basketball Association standards. ``I knew what my capabilities were. I knew I wouldn't be going in the first three rounds of the draft, and I knew I wouldn't get a chance to make a lot of money in the pros.''
McLain was eventually chosen in the draft -- by New Jersey in the seventh and final round -- but his decision to explore non-basketball avenues was hastened by an ankle injury before the opening of training camp. Several months of serious job-hunting ensued.
``I basically wanted to get into something that's not just the average job,'' he said, sounding like the typical aspiring graduate.
His basketball experience has taught him to shoot high. ``If you're successful at one point, you don't stop. I haven't reached my peak, and don't think I ever will. I'll just keep striving for something better.''
When Louisville and Duke took the floor here Monday night to determine this year's big winner, McLain had temporarily latched on with CBS Sports, which was televising the game.
The job grew out of a call the network made to him to set up an interview for airing during the tournament. Gary, who'd been a communications major in college, used the opportunity to make a smooth pitch to join the coverage team, even if it was in a secondary role.
From being a championship guard a year ago, he switched positions, arriving in Dallas as a ``go-fer.'' Instead of calling the plays at center court, he was working offstage, running whatever errands his TV bosses requested. The job, of course, was a snap for a guy who was always collecting assists playing for Villanova.
As the Wildcats' boyish-looking ``quarterback,'' it was up to him to run the show and serve as alter ego on the floor for coach Rollie Massimino. And most important, in the championship game he had to dribble the ball up against Georgetown's relentless full-court press.
That task was the undoing of many opponents, but McLain had the moxie, headiness, and yes, cockiness, to withstand the heat he was under.
Having grown up on Long Island playing take-no-prisoners New York-style basketball, he was immune to the taunts and harassment Georgetown threw at him. ``I felt nobody could guard me or ever take the ball away from me,'' he recalled.
What McLain produced was a gem of a game, one that helped earn him the diamond-studded championship ring he proudly wears today.
He connected on three of three field goal attempts and two of two foul shots, all the time committing nary a turnover.
``It was one of my average games where I was handling the ball,'' he said. ``It's just that what I did meant much more at the time. The fact that I was able to withstand all the pressure they put on throughout the game was crucial to our success.''
As for team performance it was nearly perfect, with Villanova controlling the tempo and shooting a blazing 79 percent to fell the Hoyas, led by Patrick Ewing, in a 66-64 squeaker.
McLain says he doesn't spend a lot of time reliving the memories of that moment, but he adds that ``I don't think people will ever forget our game as far as college basketball is concerned. In a year when a lot of negative things were happening, we were a nice twist -- a bunch of true student-athletes, underdogs, winning it all.''
The triumph was a wonderful capstone to the college careers of McLain and fellow senior starters Ed Pinckney and Dwayne McClain, who was a confusing near-namesake to the team's pepperpot point guard.
Before their senior years in high school, the three had become fast friends at the 5-Star basketball camp in Honesdale, Pa. McLain signed a letter of intent to enroll at Villanova, then went to work on selling the two others on the idea.
``We liked each other right from the start,'' Gary said. ``We just had the feeling the chemistry would be right for the three of us.''
Since forming the winning nucleus on Villanova's suburban Philadelphia campus, Pinckney and McClain have gone on to the NBA, with Phoenix and Indiana, respectively. McLain, who played some minor league summer ball with the Wildwood, N.J., Aces, continues to keep in touch with the others.
``But it's hard, because they're in a different city all the time,'' he said.
This summer McLain says he'll probably compete in a Manhattan playground league for pro players. For the moment, though, most of his basketball comes behind bars. To keep in shape, he's been playing against inmates at a correctional facility in the borough of Queens, where he says he faces some ``great players.''
The basketball is fun, which is all this budding businessman wants or expects it to be. An avowed realist, he says the end of his serious basketball career ``wasn't anything to dwell on or cry over.''
``I'm very content with my life,'' he said of his pursuit of the American Dream, sans basketball uniform but with three-piece suit.