- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

Jack McClinton’s already unpredictable Division I career hit a serious snag in the spring of 2005.

His coach at Siena was fired, and the once lightly recruited McClinton was coming off a surprising freshman year. So his father, Jack McClinton Sr., compiled a highlight tape and disseminated it wherever he could.

Eventually, a copy landed on the desk of Miami coach Frank Haith. At about noon one day, McClinton Sr. received a call from the Hurricanes’ coach; he planned to take a look at the tape and would be in touch later in the afternoon.

Fifteen minutes later, the elder McClinton’s phone rang again.

“He said, ‘I’ve seen enough of the tape. I don’t have to watch any more to know this guy’s a player,’” McClinton Sr. “Big Jack” to his son’s “Little Jack” recalled in a phone interview this week.

McClinton’s is an unlikely but memorable tale, one that sent both him and seventh-seeded Miami (22-10) into a South regional first-round meeting with Saint Mary’s (25-6) this afternoon in North Little Rock, Ark.

It is the first NCAA tournament appearance for the Hurricanes since 2002, and it was nearly that long ago when McClinton quietly wrapped up a high school career at Baltimore’s Calvert Hall.

He received sniffs from low-level Division I teams but no firm offers. The 6-foot-1 McClinton did receive an invitation to the Charm City Classic to play in the preliminary event featuring solid players from Baltimore County and Baltimore City.

There, he caught the eye of South Kent (Conn.) Prep coach Raphael Chillious, who added him to a team featuring Miami Heat forward Dorell Wright. Eventually, Siena offered McClinton a scholarship and he played well as a freshman. But coach Rob Lanier was dismissed after the season, and McClinton was again in flux. He needed time just to wrangle a release, though the ordeal turned into something of a blessing when Miami became interested. Still, it came with a price a year as a practice player and little else. “A lot of people might have looked at it as ‘man, it’s tough I have to sit out a year,’” McClinton said. “I looked at it as ‘now I get to sit out and get better and not lose any eligibility.’” It meant cajoling security guards to unlock the gym so he could shoot hundreds of jumpers while the Hurricanes were on the road. It entailed pestering eventual NBA players Robert Hite and Guillermo Diaz in practice every day. But it ensured the self-described late bloomer was ready to slide into the Hurricanes’ starting lineup last season. And with Miami avoiding the injury problems that decimated its frontcourt a season ago, McClinton found more chances within the Hurricanes’ offense and averaged 17 points and shot 42.6 percent from beyond the 3-point line. It was enough to land him on the All-ACC first team, the first Hurricanes player to earn the honor since Miami joined the conference in 2004-05. “He’s a joy to be around, a joy to coach,” Haith said. “I’m just happy for him because I think he can be a story for a lot of people in terms of what can happen if you just work your butt off, and that’s what he’s done.” McClinton endured a slump at the ACC tournament, shooting 6-for-23 over two games, and there’s no question the Hurricanes will be dependent on the junior’s offensive output if they are to make a deep push in the tournament. Not bad for a guy who no one initially wanted and was desperate to find a home three years ago. “People always told him he can’t do this, can’t do that,” Jack McClinton Sr. said. “He kept getting better and defying all the odds. He’s predestined to go somewhere. He’s going to be going somewhere after college. Where he’ll be, who knows? But he’ll be somewhere.” And he’ll have a much longer highlight reel whenever he gets there.

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