- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2009

30 a.m., still an early hour by college campus standards. So Jack McClinton put on his practice gear, went to the gym and began shooting jumpers.

Unhappy with his stroke in Tallahassee, McClinton finished the workout at 2 a.m. satisfied.

“When I have a game where something is not feeling right, I feel like I have to get in that gym immediately,” McClinton said. “After the game, that was the only thing I was thinking - ‘I’ve got to get back in the gym.’ ”

McClinton’s maniacal practice habits have helped to make him one of the best guards in the country. The senior is listed at 6-foot-1 and is probably shorter, but he’s a towering presence for the Hurricanes, making their often-overlooked program tougher to ignore.

Aside from the 13-point off night at Florida State, McClinton has been at his best lately. He scored 32, 34 and 35 points in consecutive games against Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina, winning high praise from opposing coaches even as Miami lost two of the three games.

“The kid’s just a great player,” Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski said. “His shots can be intimidating and change a game - not just scorewise but just the verve that he takes it with.”

“He’s the leading 3-point shooter in ACC history,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “That says right there how really doggone good he is.”

McClinton’s 45 percent accuracy from 3-point range does indeed top the ACC career chart, and he’s second in career free throw shooting at 89 percent.

He credits his accuracy to all those long sessions in the gym.

“Getting shots up - there’s nothing better than getting repetition,” he said. “That’s the main thing with shooting: doing it over and over and over.”

McClinton will take aim at Virginia on Thursday, with the Hurricanes needing a late surge to make the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year. Playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, they’re 16-10 overall and 5-8 in the ACC with three league losses in overtime.

“Our backs are against the wall,” McClinton said. “In this league there are so many great teams. But we’re still fighting.”

McClinton tends to rise to the occasion. He’s averaging 23.1 points in conference games, and in five games against teams that have been ranked No. 1 this season, he’s 26-for-46 from 3-point range (57 percent) and averaging 29.8 points.

McClinton bounced back from his subpar showing against Florida State with 22 points and four assists Saturday to help beat Boston College.

“It’s a great challenge against him, especially how much he demands the ball,” the Eagles’ Tyrese Rice said. “He comes off so many screens. If you’re late on one, he’s going to make you pay for it.”

Rice is another talented guard in a conference full of them. He became friends with McClinton when they were basketball camp roommates, and he heard about last week’s workout that lasted until 2 a.m.

“That’s Jack to a T,” Rice said with a smile. “He’s a gym rat. He’s always in the gym.”

No matter how hard McClinton works, he’s unlikely to grow now that he’s 24. But his terrific range gives him a shot at making the NBA as an undersized guard.

Scouts project him to be drafted as early as late in the first round. After he scored Miami’s final 18 points against Duke, including a 28-footer over two opponents to force overtime, Krzyzewski stopped McClinton and offered to help with his pursuit of the pros.

For now, McClinton is focused on a strong finish to his college career. He tends to be at his best down the stretch, and Miami coach Frank Haith figures that will be the case again.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Jack,” Haith said. “He’s such a tremendous worker. When you have a player with that kind of mentality, there’s no need to worry about him doing what he needs to do to get himself ready to play.”

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