GATE CITY, Va. (WJHL) – Mac McClung has pursued his dream of playing professional basketball across the country over the last few years. The game has taken him from Los Angeles to Delaware – and everywhere in between.

On Thursday night, however, for the first time in 2023, the hoops star returned home to the loving embrace of the Gate City community.

“I don’t know – you always want to come home after things go well in your life, so just to be able to come back is super awesome,” he said.

McClung was given a hero’s welcome home, because for many in Southwest Virginia and beyond, that’s exactly what he is.

Back in February, he laid down three nearly-perfect dunks to take home an NBA Slam Dunk Contest championship.

“It was kind of a blur really, but it was kind of a relief, as well, because we put so much time into figuring out the dunks,” he said. “Just being prepared for that moment – and when it went probably better than we expected – it was just kind of a sigh of joy and relief.”

None of his dunks resonated more than his final offering, which he threw down while sporting his hometown across his chest.

“You have no idea the impact that that had on this community,” Gate City councilman Terry Kilgore said from the podium in Gate City Middle School’s gymnasium. “It was certainly an emotional moment for all of us and we couldn’t have been more proud of you.”

McClung also returned home as an NBA G-League champion.

“You’re battling with people wanting to get their shot and their call-up and get the two-way [contract],” he said. “It’s a battle, but for all of us to come together and kind of let go of ourselves – it’s special.”

“A state championship, an NBA G-League championship – every championship is special, so it was really special with that group of guys,” he continued.

A number of Blue Devils from that 2018 VHSL state championship team were back in the building on Thursday to see McClung’s number retired. They were there, not only to celebrate a champion dunker, but a champion friend.

“Take basketball out of the equation and Mac has always been there for me,” Gate City teammate and current Elon basketball player Zac Ervin said.

“He knows how to get the best out of me and how to encourage me to be the best version of myself,” Gate City teammate and Miami (OH) guard Bradley Dean added. “I think that’s truly why we’re as good of friends as we are.”

McClung was presented with local and state resolutions for his accomplishments by delegates and council members before his former high school coach, Scott Vermillion, unveiled his retired No. 0 jersey.

“I always told my players, I’ll never retire a jersey,” Vermillion told the gathered crowd. “I don’t care how good you get, we’re never doing that. We’re about the team.”

“But [McClung] said, ‘Coach, you think you might retire that jersey now?'”

After sharing a laugh, McClung made it clear to everyone in the gymnasium that he has reached the highest highs in his life thanks to the love and support of his family, his team and his community.

“Man, I’m just in awe at the way you guys support me – and I love this town so much and I will rep it until the end of my life.”