A trip home for a college student can sometimes be a disaster of trying to deal with parents and other family members.
In senior Dan McCain’s case, a trip home became a total rejuvenation for a career otherwise going nowhere.
After a freshman year at the University of Michigan that ended with the coach that had recruited him surprisingly retiring, McCain’s game slowly began to go downhill, and he knew it.
“When he left, a lot of the guys on the team started to lose it,” said McCain. “But it was hard to give up on something you had worked for a whole decade to obtain.”
So McCain continued on at Michigan, not wanting to give up on a scholarship he had worked on receiving since he started playing tennis at age nine.
Born in Illinois, McCain received his first chance at stardom, “My 15 minutes,” McCain calls it, during his freshman year of high school when he appeared on television after winning the Illinois State Singles’ Championship.
“That was probably the most nervous I ever have been in my life,” McCain said.
In talking to him, it is hard to believe McCain could have ever been nervous in his life. His calm manner and level approach to the game has been his staple since coming back to Tampa after leaving Ann Arbor last fall.
“After two years of play that I felt was deteriorating, by my standards, I knew it was time to get out of that situation,” McCain said. “The coach just lost us, and I wasn’t the only one ready to get out of there.”
Enter Don Barr to the rescue.
“I let Coach Barr know my feelings and intentions of wanting to get out of Michigan and transfer to USF, even though it was my senior year,” McCain said.
There was one problem. USF had all of its scholarships locked up for the spring 2002 season. Fortunately, for McCain and his new teammates, one of Barr’s recruits didn’t make the grades and allowed for one scholarship to open up.
“Danny was so committed to coming back home that he was willing to play without the scholarship,” Barr said. “Luckily for him, and for us, things played themselves out the way they did.”So the three-time state champ (including the one from Illinois) returned to Florida, where he had won his junior and senior year in high school.
“I really cannot thank Coach Barr enough for the opportunity he gave me,” said McCain. “I knew I needed to work harder and that I could play better than what I had done my first three years.”McCain also feels being closer to his dad has helped tremendously.
“My dad’s been my coach ever since I was nine or 10,” McCain said. “So he and I know my game better than anybody else.”
“Basically having everyone on your side is what leads to team confidence,” McCain said. “Coach Barr knows how to balance out fun and competition in practice, and I think that is what being a coach is all about. I mean look at him (as Barr is throwing a football around with a couple of McCain’s teammates). How can you not love the guy?”
That’s exactly what some of McCain’s teammates say of McCain.
“We really weren’t expecting much from him,” said team captain Jorge Escallon. “It was all kind of a last minute thing, and now with his experience and confidence he helps us believe more and more that we can really beat anybody we go up against.”That team confidence has helped the Bulls defeat two Top-20 teams this season and get their International Tennis Association ranking as high as No. 23 (currently No. 28).
McCain has played anywhere from the No. 4 singles position up to the No. 1 and has had a very positive effect on the Bulls’ strength in doubles play, teaming up with sophomore Martin Wetzel.
“Danny worked so hard over Christmas break and showed that he really wanted to be a part of this program,” Barr said. “We are so much more balanced with him.”
For Dan McCain, the opportunity to play somewhere enjoyable and successful is a complete balance for him.
Chris Lemke covers men’s tennis and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org