- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2019

To Webb Wellman, creating a basketball mixtape is an art. And last year, Mac McClung was the perfect subject to capture.

Then a content creator for BallisLife, a popular YouTube channel featuring basketball highlights, Wellman was responsible for crafting McClung’s senior year mixtape. At the end of the season, Wellman had 200 to 300 clips of McClung imported into his editing software.

He carefully spent the next few days — not hours, days — assembling the right footage and music to produce a viral video.

The end result — a four-and-a-half-minute video filled with explosive dunks, crossovers, and celebrations — amassed more than a million views. BallisLife dubbed the Virginia teenager the “most exciting player in America.”

“He’s such a freak athlete,” Wellman said.

A year later, McClung, now a freshman guard at Georgetown, is getting ready for his first Big East Tournament on Thursday when the Hoyas take on Seton Hall. In the past, the tournament would have been the perfect opportunity for a freshman star to make a name for himself on the national level.

But thanks to the popularity of his mixtape on social media, McClung is already well-known. He was a name before arriving on the Georgetown campus, despite hailing from Gate City, Virginia, population 2,000.

“If you were to see him in the streets, he’s not overwhelming,” Wellman said. “He’s a 6-foot-2 kid and he’s a white kid. … He fed into the show. Mac enjoyed the people talking, not expecting too much from him and then him overdelivering and making sure they felt his effect when the game was over.”

‘The era we live in’

Patrick Ewing knows what it’s like to be heavily recruited. The Georgetown coach was once the top recruit in America and schools were desperate to land him before he committed to the Hoyas in 1981.

Ewing’s recruitment, though, happened long before mixtapes were invented. What does he think of this generation?

“That’s just the era we live in,” Ewing said. “So you have to embrace it.”

It would be misguided to say McClung, a three-star recruit in high school, is a product of hype. Ewing said mixtapes had nothing to do with his evaluation of McClung’s game when recruiting him. McClung, too, downplayed the effect — saying “it’s not really a big thing in my life.”

McClung’s freshman season has gone well. He was named to the Big East all-freshman team, averaging 13.4 points per game.

Still, social media undoubtedly helps with exposure. All it can take is one clip to put someone on the radar. For McClung, that happened in May 2017 when a windmill dunk at an AAU tournament in Richmond went viral.

Andrew Canavos, then a student at VCU, captured the footage and the clip received 100,000 views on Twitter. By the fall, Canavos was driving 5 1/2 hours from Richmond to Gate City to record footage of McClung’s senior season and mix his own highlight video after each game.

He wasn’t the only photographer doing that, either. At each outing, Canavos estimated there were 10 photographers to see McClung. The stands were also filled with spectators.

McClung’s own social media footprint, meanwhile, was growing, too. To date, he has more than 700,000 Instagram followers — the large majority of which were gained in 2018. Rapper Drake even direct messaged him asking for a jersey.

“It helped him in the end, and he knows that,” Canavos said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. … Mac wasn’t really big. So he had to make some noise by himself. Personally the video people … provided a platform for him, but that was all him.”

Crafting the perfect mixtape

YouTube channels like Ballislife and SLAM have dramatically risen in popularity over the past few years. These days, it would be a surprise for a top-level high school athlete to not have a mixtape or some other highlight reel.

But not all mixtapes are created equal.

“Especially now, things are so watered down,” Wellman said. “There’s a lot of ways to not do them the right way. But if they’re put together properly, then a mixtape should show you what a player’s maximum potential is at the current level he’s at.”

That means including more than just dunks.

There’s also a stylistic element to these videos, as well. Wellman said the type of mixtape that goes viral is the one that people don’t just watch one time. Wellman tries to find the perfect beat to match the video — going as far to make sure the big plays lineup perfectly with the “drop” in each beat.

Mixtapes, he said, have to capture a viewer’s attention within the first 30 seconds. “You should not watch a mixtape and get bored,” Wellman said.

Wellman, though, didn’t have to worry about viewers getting bored watching McClung.

“He was just a perfect storm,” Wellman said. “Mac is a worker. He’s just going to work his [butt] off. For a kid like that, it’s just going to get better and better.”

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