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Old National Presents: Catching up with ... Mel McCants

Mel McCants teammed with Kip Jones (left) to help Gene Keady win consecutive Big Ten titles in 1987 and 1988.
Mel McCants teammed with Kip Jones (left) to help Gene Keady win consecutive Big Ten titles in 1987 and 1988.

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Gene Keady coached some good big men during his 25-year run as Purdue coach. And few were more skilled than Mel McCants.

The 6-9 McCants arrived on campus in the fall of 1985. He was a highly-touted prospect from Mount Carmel High in Chicago. And it didn't take him long to make an impact, as he averaged 10.0 points as a freshman. In fact, his 121 career starts are still fourth most in school annals.

McCants averaged double-figures each of his four seasons at Purdue. He currently ranks No. 22 among the school's all-time scorers, tallying 1,554 points with a 12.4 average.

As a sophomore and junior, McCants helped the Boilermakers win consecutive Big Ten titles. As a junior in 1987-88 playing alongside the ballyhooed senior trio of Troy Lewis, Todd Mitchell and Everette Stephens, McCants posted a career-high 14.2 scoring average for a team that went 16-2 in the Big Ten and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney. visited recently with McCants, who has been living in Belgium since the early 1990s. What are you doing these days?

McCants: I work for an auto logistics company on a military base. We import and export vehicles for soldiers. We inspect them, etc. I have been doing this for 14 years. I had a friend who was working in this business. He kept an eye out for me and something came up. I applied ... What city do you live in?

McCants: I live in Diepenbeek, Belgium. It's about an hour from Brussels. I have dual citizenship. Do you have children?

McCants: I have a daughter who will be 9 in June. Why did you choose Purdue?

McCants: I had my choice to go almost anywhere out of high school. A lot of people got angry with me because I didn’t stay in Chicago. I took trips to Notre Dame and Michigan and committed to both of those schools. Then, I committed to Purdue. And then I wanted to go to Hawaii. I begged and pleaded to take the trip. I went. I almost committed, but I didn’t.

Everyone thought I was going to DePaul, and I turned them down. Some of the staff there got angry. And I was like, "Nah. I wanted to get out of Chicago." Ray Meyer was still the coach.

I liked Coach Keady and the guys who were at Purdue. Plus, it wasn’t far from home. On my visit, I saw a lot of things I liked about the school. The education, the people, the courses they had. What do you recall from your freshman year of 1985-86?

McCants: Instead of coming off the bench, I was thrown into the starting lineup as a freshman. The center spot was open. It was between me and Jeff Arnold. We battled to see who would win, and I go it. What are some of your best memories?

McCants: Beating Indiana was always good. The games in Mackey Arena I never will forget. The crowds were great. What do you remember about playing for Gene Keady?

McCants: Hard-nosed. A worker. He got the best out of all of his players. He got us to reach our potential. He was fun to be with. He made me the player I was. I owe him a lot. Do you stay in touch with former teammates?

McCants: Not really. Some on Facebook with Ryan Berning and Kip Jones. I just recently got back in touch with Todd (Mitchell). Troy (Lewis) a little bit on our birthdays. Brandon Brantley, too. We say “hello” every now and then on Facebook. Good thing for Facebook. What was it like to play on back-to-back Big Ten title teams?

McCants: We shared the title with Indiana my sophomore year and won it outright as a junior. We had a great team that year. That was the best team I ever played on. It’s just too bad we didn’t do what we thought we could in the tourney. How much did losing to Kansas State in the Sweet 16 in 1988 hurt?

McCants: That hurt. That still haunts me today. What if? What if? We played them earlier that year and beat them pretty bad (101-72). But things change in the tourney. We got off to a 10-0 lead on them, looked like we were gonna ease by again. Next thing you know, they are back in the game (73-70 loss). Did you think you'd get drafted?

McCants: I thought I was gonna get drafted. It didn’t happen. My agent called me the next day and said a few teams wanted to work me out for summer camps. I went to Seattle, but got hurt after bumping knees with someone. I then went to Israel for about a month before getting let go. I came back to the States and went to training camp with the Lakers. They had two spots open and five guys competing for it. Me and Steve Bucknall who played at North Carolina won the spots.

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Mel McCants spent the 1989-90 season playing for the Lakers.
Mel McCants spent the 1989-90 season playing for the Lakers. What was it like to play for the Lakers?

McCants: I played one year (1989-90, playing in 13 games and averaging 1.7 points for a 63-19 team), it was Pat Riley’s last year. I got hurt during the season. I sprained an ankle and was out a few weeks. Then when I was coming off injured reserve, I stepped on a guy’s foot in a shoot-around and twisted the other ankle. It wasn’t the same for me after that in Los Angeles.

I played with Magic, Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Mychal Thompson, Larry Drew, it was (Vlade) Divacs’ rookie year. They would bring in Kareem to work with Divac in practices. They were trying to get him developed. Magic won MVP that year. You watch him on TV all those years. Then, wow, you are his teammate. I was in awe the first day I saw him. The Lakers greats. Wow, I am part of it now. It was a dream. What happened after you left the Lakers?

McCants: I had a contract with the Lakers, but my agent had me wait to sign it to see if something better would come along. In that time, Pat Riley left and Mike Dunleavy was hired as coach. And I didn’t fit in Dunleavy’s plans. So, then I went to Sioux Falls in the CBA. Hated it. Everyone in that league was trying to get back to the NBA, so there was a lot of selfish play. Everyone was trying to do their thing. People wanted to score. It wasn’t for me. They wanted me back, but I went to Europe instead.

I came to Belgium because of (former Purdue player and assistant coach) Frank Kendrick. He had connections here. I owe Frank a lot, too. I came here in 1992. I had patella problems in both knees and had surgery. I went back to Purdue and rehabbed there. Once I was ready, I came back to Belgium. When were you last in the United States?

McCants: 2012 was the last time I was in the States. I miss my mother. We FaceTime two or three times a month. But it’s not the same. We plan to come over sometime this summer.

I still follow Purdue when I can. If I have time. I have a hard time watching basketball now that I can’t play. I have had both knees replaced. I have a lot of Purdue gear. I always wear it. I owe Purdue a lot and appreciate my time there. It was special.

Mel McCants is enjoying life overseas with his young daughter.
Mel McCants is enjoying life overseas with his young daughter.

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