Robert McClain Jr.: Red Lake’s first NCAA D1 male basketball player

Robert McClain Jr. with basketball on the court. (Photo by Dale Pine Jr.)

By Dan Ninham
(This post had the wrong author on it. The correct author name has been updated.)

Robert McClain Jr., 22, is an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and descendant of the Red Lake Ojibwe. He is a former student-athlete of University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) and recently graduated with his degree in Multi-disciplinary Studies.

“When COVID started I was at school getting ready to play in my first D1 conference tourney,” said Robert. “Sadly due to the outbreak it was cancelled. I was back home on the rez from March to August until they had plans in place for us to return safely back to campus.”

“I’m proud to say I made it through and graduated from the school that gave me a chance to live out my dream as a D1 basketball player,” said Robert.

“Rob played for us the past two years at UTRGV,” said Jai Steadman, former assistant and interim head coach at UTRGV. “I went to watch Rob play at United Tribes Community College where he became a Junior College All-American.”

“I met with his coach and family and then recruited Rob to play for UTRGV,” said Jai. “Rob is competitive, driven, hard playing, and an athletic-type player that would fit into UTRGV and former head coach Lew Hill style of play. Coach Hill and I wanted tough aggressive, defensively-minded student athletes.”

UTGRV head coach Lew Hill passed away tragically on Feb. 7, 2021 at the age of 55.
“Rob was such a leader both on and off the court the team often looked up to him,” said Jai. “Sometimes I would be down and Rob would pick me back up and talk to me and keep things positive, often talking about our faith and keep telling me to coach hard and keep my head up.”

“Rob and his family decided that since he earned his Associate Degree and now his Bachelor’s degree that it was time to move on from basketball and start working,” said Jai. “I know Rob will be a successful leader of young people. He has shown the abilities to handle school, sports, adversity and continue to shine,” added Jai.

“I would hire Robert McClain Jr. to my coaching staff,” said Jai. “Rob will make a great teacher, leader and/or coach going forward. I am truly proud and honored to have recruited and coached Robert McClain Jr.”

“Being with Rob for two years made me feel good that the future of this world is in good hands,” said Luke McKay, former assistant coach at UTRGV and current head coach, Neosho County Community College. “Beyond his athletic ability and mental toughness on the court he consistently demonstrated an empathy and compassion for others beyond his years.”

“While he was an intense competitor on the court and a player that would put his body on the line to help his team, it was clear that his true passion and calling was helping other young people who come from a similar background to him,” added Luke.

“He is definitely going to change the world for the better,” added Luke.

Robert is back home on the Red Lake Reservation helping out where he can. He was involved with teaching and coaching multiple sports this past summer and enjoyed it very much.

“Working with youth is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Robert.

“This past summer was great to reconnect with him,” said Chris Jourdain, longtime Red Lake youth sports coach. “I was happy to hear what he experienced down in Texas and proud of his accomplishment of getting his degree.”

“He’s very intelligent, with a good head on his shoulders, a sense of direction with where he wants his life to go and the idea of giving back to his community,” said Chris.

“I often remind the athletes I work with as a middle school and elementary coach about the work ethic he had. He wasn’t just gifted his athleticism and skills. He earned them through the same drills that they’re doing,” added Chris.

United Tribes head coach Pete Conway and Juco Advocate recruit exposure owner Brandon Goble were significant to Robert’s growth. “Without those two believing in me and giving me opportunities to showcase my talent I would not be where I am today,” said Robert.

“I hope one day I can be as great as they are as helping young athletes reach their dreams and goals,” added Robert.