The year Sheldon McClellan spent away from basketball was going to be hard, any way he decided to look at it.
After two years as a burgeoning star at Texas — McClellan averaged 11.2 points as a freshman and 13.2 points as a sophomore — he parted ways with the program when it became apparent that Texas coach Rick Barnes’ dissatisfaction with McClellan’s perceived lack of effort would not change.
So when he landed at Miami with coach Jim Larranaga at the same time as another high-profile transfer – Kansas State’s Angel Rodriguez – there was a group decision that if the two were going to take that much time off, they had better put it to good use. Every day would be a chance to get better, and the two bought in.
Three years later, the results for both players have been hard to argue. Rodriguez was an honorable-mention All-ACC pick, and McClellan has led Miami (26-7) in scoring both seasons.
This season he’s averaging 15.5 points, was a second-team All-ACC pick and has helped lead his team into Saturday’s South Regional second-round game with Wichita State (26-8).
Along the way, he’s affirmed his spot as an NBA prospect, with several draft projections pegging the 6-foot-5 Houston native as a second-round pick.
“I definitely learned from transferring, just like I learned from everything else in my career,” McClellan said. “I was fighting a lot of adversity at Texas moving in and out of the starting lineups ... and when I got (to Miami) I just felt way more comfortable and (Larranaga) gave me a lot of confidence. During my year off, Angel I worked out together every day and it was just a great thing.
“I wasn’t a Texas fan growing up, I just wanted to stay close to home because I was a real family-oriented guy. But after that second year, I just thought it was best to part ways.”
The Hurricanes have been the major benefactor from that decision. Not only has McClellan turned into a star, he’s also improved his defense.
“Sheldon and Angel just really worked their tails off that year they had to sit out,” Larranaga said. “So when they came back, they were ready.”
McClellan is an interesting matchup for WSU. He could face up with senior guard Ron Baker, another NBA prospect, or he could find himself squared up with 6-foot-6 sophomore Zach Brown in a surreal twist.
Brown, another Houston native, is a full three years younger than McClellan and remembers him more from reading about McClellan’s exploits at Bellaire High, where he was a Top 100 prospect his senior year.
“I remember seeing pictures of him in there dunking all the time,” Brown said. “I’m a little younger, so it wasn’t like we got to play against each other or anything, but I knew who he was and I knew he was really good. Of course, there’s always a little extra something when you face a guy from your hometown.
“It’s just like when I played against Jeff Roberson at Vanderbilt, who I actually played against growing up, you look forward to it. I’m sure there will be a lot of TVs in Houston tuned into the game tomorrow.”
McClellan smiled when asked about Brown.
“I’ve actually seen him on TV. Kind of long and lanky ... brings a lot of energy,” McClellan said. “The youngster. I’m looking forward to beating him and I’m sure he’s looking forward to beating me.”