ATLANTA – Maybe Miami guard Jack McClinton should work in construction. Every season, his game breaks through its ceiling and he has to build it higher.
McClinton, a 6-foot-1 senior, is coming off a season in which he was first-team All-ACC, the first Miami player so honored. He averaged 17.7 points per game and shot a sizzling 42.7 percent from 3-point range (94-for-220). He topped 90 3-pointers and 40 percent from the arc for the second consecutive season, and, more important, the Hurricanes won 23 games and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
Not bad for a guy who had no offers when he came out of high school.
McClinton went to prep school, then signed with Siena - which was coming off a 14-16 season and a sixth-place finish in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
"I always envisioned playing D-I basketball since I was a young kid watching Maryland play because I was from there," said McClinton, who grew up in Baltimore. "I always worked hard. I just always did that no matter the circumstance, whether I was at South Kent (prep school) or Siena. I never stopped working."
His work ethic is why McClinton keeps breaking through the ceiling. Five years ago, he couldn't even get a D-I offer and now he's a returning first-team All-ACC player.
"He's a self-made player," UM coach Frank Haith said. "He puts in the time. He's a great kid to have because he's a leader and his work ethic is there for everyone to see and follow."
The construction analogy seems to be working.
"I think his work ethic went up 100 times when he got into the league," said Boston College guard Tyrese Rice, another All-ACC player and one of McClinton's closest friends in the league. "I thought I worked hard, but he works two to three times harder than I do. He's a great student of the game. He can get on a streak and just kill you. I think he had like 14 points in three minutes against us down there."
In fact, McClinton scored all 21 of his points in the game's final 11 minutes as the Hurricanes rallied to beat the Eagles 74-61.
When he gets hot, he can bury an opponent single-handedly. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, McClinton scored 38 points in a convincing 78-64 victory over Saint Mary's. He was 12-for-19 from the field, 3-for-6 from 3-point range, and he made all 11 of his free throws.
"He's a nightmare to guard," Rice said. "He'll run around screens all game long, and if you're not there when he catches, it's gone."
McClinton said he and Rice talked often when they met up this summer at the Chris Paul and Steve Nash camps.
"We talked about last season and what we wanted to do this season," McClinton said. "He's a great kid. He's one of the toughest guys in the league to guard, so it was good for us to push each other in those camps."
McClinton says the Hurricanes have to push each other, too. He wants to make sure they don't rest on last season's laurels.
They have some questions, especially in the frontcourt. But along with McClinton, Haith welcomes back guards Lance Hurdle and James Dews and forward Dwayne Collins. Miami was picked fourth in the media preseason poll, just a shade behind Wake Forest.
"We're all staying in the gym and we're all hungry," McClinton said. "We started at the bottom of the totem pole last year (Miami was picked last in the media poll last season) and we still have to go out every night with a chip on our shoulders."
No one has carried that chip quite like McClinton. That's what happens when you come up through the ranks with no one believing you belong.
"Of course it was frustrating (to be overlooked)," McClinton said. "You've just got to take it for what it is and make the best of it. You can't sit down and mope and pout because you didn't make it into a major school. You make the best of it.
"That's what I tried to do at Siena. Then the coach got fired and I got a chance to move to – I wouldn't say a better program because Siena is a great program – but now I'm in the ACC, a much higher conference, and you get more recognition."
McClinton won't allow the accolades to go to his head anytime soon.
"I'll never forget where I came from – from not being respected at all to where I am now – and I'm still not going to stop," McClinton said. "I'll continue to work hard."