Miami's late-night payoff

Calvert Hall graduate McClinton, alone in gym, raised his game

ACC notebook

November 29, 2006|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun reporter

Miami coach Frank Haith's road rituals last season included checking in with Jack McClinton.

"I'd call him at 10 o'clock at night, and he'd be out of breath," Haith said. "I'd say, `Jack, what are you doing?' He had worked a deal with a guy at the gym, so he could work on his game late at night. That's the kind of kid he is."

Transfers can't travel with their new team, but last winter was not an idle one for McClinton, who made like an earlier standout at Calvert Hall. Maryland's national championship in 2002 was in part due to the after-hours work Juan Dixon did at Cole Field House, where he went on nights off to hone his shot and ball control. McClinton found himself doing the same at Miami's 7,000-seat BankUnited Center last season.

"There were too many people at the intramural gym, so when the team was on the road, I got a security guard to turn on the lights and let me in our arena," McClinton said. "I'd spin the ball to myself, work on my outside pivot, inside pivot, my step-back jumper. I didn't know that Juan had done that, but he's the reason I went to Calvert Hall."

McClinton acknowledges that his focus and motivation strayed when he played for the Cardinals and Mark Amatucci, but maturation has him in line to be a league's top-scoring newcomer for the second time in three seasons.

McClinton spent his freshman season at Siena, where he led all Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rookies with 16.4 points per game in 2004-05. He entered last night's ACC-Big Ten Challenge game at Northwestern averaging 19.3 points for the Hurricanes.

North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and Wake Forest's Kyle Visser were the only players in the conference scoring at a greater rate. The only first-year player within shouting range of McClinton is Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Week Brandan Wright, who's averaging 16.6 for the Tar Heels.

Miami lacks a marquee win and has lost on a neutral floor to Buffalo and Cleveland State, but McClinton is doing his part. The Hurricanes need every point they can get from him, as Haith must replace the lost production of Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite, who combined for nearly 34 points a game last season.

McClinton, whose parents live in White Marsh, came through the Cecil-Kirk Rec Center pipeline when his age groups included Rudy Gay, Josh Boone, Illinois guard Chester Frazier and Dontaye Draper, the top player at the College of Charleston.

McClinton prepped in 2003-04 at South Kent, when that finishing school in Connecticut revolved around Dorell Wright, who's now with the Miami Heat.

McClinton went to Siena to play for assistant coach Rob Jackson, a one-time Loyola College assistant. When Jackson got fired after McClinton's freshman year, the player took his rising stock south and has become a Miami leader.

"People went `woah!' when they saw Jack late in his year [at South Kent]," Haith said. "If he had signed later, he could have gone to a higher level. He brought a level of toughness and competitiveness every single day to practice last year. He wanted to guard Guillermo [Diaz], he wanted to guard Rob [Hite]. He was anxious to play again."

The Miami roster in the ACC media guide omitted McClinton. He was seen on ESPN2 last night, and figures to be better known by Jan. 10, when Miami plays at Maryland.

Smith Center setup

The centerpiece in the eighth annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge sends No. 3 Ohio State to No. 7 North Carolina tonight (9, ESPN). The Buckeyes have been without 7-foot Greg Oden, who's recovering from offseason wrist surgery and might not make his college debut for another month.

In Oden's absence, Hansbrough and Wright could run wild for the Tar Heels, who have something to prove after getting handled by Gonzaga.

Virginia Tech is home tonight against Iowa, smarting from a loss to Western Michigan in the first round of the Old Spice Classic.

Help is on the way in the backcourt, as the Hokies got an early commitment from Malcolm Delaney, a combo guard who was an All-Metro player as a junior at Towson Catholic.

Tap-ins

Boston College, no better than No. 3 in New England after losses to Vermont and Providence, can begin to make amends tonight (ESPN, 7) against visiting Michigan State. ... Wake Forest, the odd man out in this year's ACC-Big Ten Challenge thanks to expansion, takes a 5-0 record to Air Force tonight. ACC coaches are still steamed over the Falcons' at-large bid to the 2006 NCAA tournament. ... North Carolina State is 5-0 for new coach Sidney Lowe, but it hasn't left Raleigh. The Wolfpack goes to Virginia on Sunday (3:30 p.m., Fox) for the first conference game of the season, then plays West Virginia in Charleston a week from tonight.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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