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As the weather begins to cool and the leaves change color, the anticipation of another season of Ohio State basketball builds. As the players begin to grow weary of their offseason routine, the in-season routine takes its place. Marked events such as the start of practice, the first opponent scouting report and the nervousness that comes with the first game are a few of the things that every player looks forward to.

Unfortunately for Ohio State senior guard Tanya McClure, when the calendars turned to November this year, her offseason never ended. Sidelined by an ankle that has been operated on three times, most recently last June 24, the Gahanna, Ohio, native will begin her fifth season watching games from head coach Jim Foster’s bench as her body continues to mend.

After each practice, which McClure never misses, she and her Buckeye teammates walk off the court and head for the locker room. She limps noticeably, but not from twisting her ankle in a drill or taking a charge under the basket. She limped when she walked into practice, too. McClure’s limp is a constant reminder of the one goal she has for her herself this season – to walk pain-free.

As McClure continues to heal, she must take a seat on the bench that she has already seen too much. After a stellar freshman campaign during the 1999-00 season in which she played every game and started 13, McClure suffered a season-ending ankle injury prior to her sophomore campaign and sat out the entire season with a medical redshirt. The injury reoccurred early in her redshirt sophomore season and forced her out of action again until the end of January.

But McClure’s story is not one of missed games and hard feelings – she is too strong of a person to let any of that get her down. While many players would have given up, McClure has become an inspiration to her teammates. Serving as an Ohio State co-captain while sitting out what should have been her sophomore season, McClure became one of the Buckeyes’ leaders off the court and in the weight room, earning the Buckeye Spirit Award after the season.

“Tayna brings leadership to our team regardless of the situation she is in,” teammate Ashley Allen said. “She is always trying to help the next person. Tayna is always positive and never down about things.”

Though she did not play in one Big Ten game during the 2000-01 season, she was again selected by her teammates to serve as an Ohio State co-captain for the 2001-02 campaign.

“It said a lot,” McClure said. “It said that they value me and respect me as a person. They can’t see me out there playing, so it has to be based on things off the court.”

One of the off-the-court leadership roles that McClure has adopted is in the weight room. While she has been kept off the court by her ankle, McClure has set the tone with the weights that has inspired her Buckeye teammates.

“I love to lift,” McClure said. “One of the things I would love to do is be a strength and conditioning coach. I love being in the weight room and encouraging people to get in there. The physical part is a big aspect of the game, too, and when you’re injured you lose a lot of muscle mass, so I was in there a lot trying to get it back.”

Anthony Glass, Ohio State director of strength and conditioning, has seen first-hand McClure’s effort in the weight room. Her work ethic, combined with her personality, led Glass to suggest the strength and conditioning field as a possible career choice for McClure.

“She is a phenomenal worker when it comes to the weight room,” Glass said. “She is one of the most dedicated, and also one of the strongest girls I have ever seen. Her name is all over the records board on the wall in the weight room and I don’t see that changing any time soon. She has a great personality that would make her a great addition to this field. She has no problem motivating people.”

When she has been healthy, McClure has shined just as much on the court as she does off it. Coming out of Gahanna-Lincoln High School she was ranked the No. 7 guard in the country by the Blue Star Scouting Report and her 1,196 career points marked a school record. As a member of the Dayton Lady HoopStars, McClure and future Buckeye teammates LaToya Turner, Lauren Shenk and Tomeka Brown won the 1998 AAU National Championship.

Her freshman season at Ohio State proved her billing was legitimate. Her 13 starts all came in Big Ten play, where she averaged 3.2 points per game and collected 34 assists and 15 steals.

Despite those statistics, what she remembers most from that season isn’t a particular game or moment, but having the opportunity to compete in front of the people she cares about.

“My best memory was being able to play in front of my family and friends,” McClure said. “I love seeing them come to the games.”

Her ankle injury would put a halt to her production and force her to her to miss all of her second season and the first 19 games of her redshirt sophomore season. After a 51-game hiatus, McClure’s return to the Value City Arena will not soon be forgotten. In a 70-66 Big Ten win vs. Minnesota, McClure came off the bench to notch a career-high 12 points in 18 minutes of playing time. She made a career-high four 3-pointers in that contest on just five attempts.

“It was very emotional because I had been anticipating it for so long,” McClure said. “I was just excited to be back out on the court and was blessed to hit some shots. I probably shocked myself. Minnesota was nationally ranked, so to knock off a ranked team felt great. To be out there just felt so good.”

It is that kind of spark that Foster knows McClure can bring to the Buckeyes.

“She is very competitive and has a great work ethic,” Foster said. “She has tremendous quickness, is a tenacious defender and can shoot the three. She has all the attributes you would want from your point guard.”

Though her ankle was not 100 percent last season as a junior, McClure was able to get back on the court. She played in 20 games and collected 25 points, 22 assists and 16 steals. Among McClure’s season highlights were games against Minnesota, when she contributed four points, three steals, two assists and no turnovers. Against then-No. 17/18 Texas she dished out three assists in Ohio State’s 70-66 win over the Longhorns in historic St. John Arena.

Her last surgery once again has McClure waiting for another return to the court, but until that time comes she continues to do whatever she can to help the Buckeyes.

“I just help out on the sideline and tell them what I see from the bench,” McClure said. “It’s basically what I’ve been doing for the past two or three years – just giving them my advice based on what I see. If I see something, I’m going to say something. If I see a problem, I’m going to address it. That’s just me. That’s how I am.”

Rehabilitation on her ankle since her surgery in June has been a slow process for McClure.

“The type of injury I have is more structural,” McClure said. “So there’s really nothing I can do as far as therapy or rehab. It’s more just waiting to see how it heals. My biggest goal is just to be pain free. If I get back on the court, that will be a bonus.”

Foster recognizes McClure’s value to the team in whatever capacity she is able to give it.

“She is at practice everyday and is good with the young players,” Foster said. “She is someone they’ll listen to and is someone that has her head squarely on her shoulders. It’s very obvious the players respect her.”

McClure’s ability to keep a positive attitude and overcome adversity is not something that has developed solely from battling injuries. When she was 14-years old, McClure’s mother, Peri, passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm.

“That is the biggest thing that I have ever been through in my life,” McClure said. “Just to get through that situation and have my family back me up has really helped me.”

The McClure family has remained strong through their tragedy. Her father, Willie, brother, Kelley, and sisters, Trina and Tasha, communicate almost daily. Kelley McClure, who starred on the basketball court at Otterbein College, is now playing in the Continental Basketball Association in Rockford, Ill. Trina McClure is in nursing school at Columbus State, while Tasha McClure works in child care.

“I talk to my dad everyday,” McClure said. “He just encourages me to not to give up.”

Her father, who attends every Ohio State game with McClure’s uncle, Bob, is not the only family member to give McClure support.

“Kelley just encourages me to stick with it,” McClure said. “Trina and Tasha are huge Buckeye fans – basketball, football, hockey – it doesn’t matter.”

McClure uses the adversity she has overcome in her life to fuel one of her other passions, which is speaking in churches around Columbus. Following graduation from Ohio State with a degree in sociology, she plans to enroll in a bible college to pursue her goal of becoming an ordained minister.

“It is something I have always wanted to do and I do a lot of that now,” McClure said. “I talk about a lot of different topics or sometimes I just give my personal testimony. I know that anything I go through in life beyond basketball, I will be able to handle.”

Before McClure makes full-time preaching her occupation, she has high aspirations for the Buckeyes in 2003-04.

“My hopes are to win the national championship, that’s something I have always wanted to do,” McClure said. “We have the talent and skills, it’s just a matter of us gelling together and just going out and doing it. From the sideline all I can do is encourage, help and support them and be their biggest fan.”

With McClure lending her support, on or off the court, the Buckeyes have one of the biggest fans they could have ever hoped for.