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The long ranger

The Baltimore Sun

Jack McClinton's path to college basketball stardom at the University of Miami was not a direct route, but it was not nearly as bumpy as it might seem given the number of stops he made after leaving Baltimore nearly six years ago.

There was the year McClinton spent at South Kent School after graduating from Calvert Hall. Unlike many of his teammates at the prep school in rural Connecticut, McClinton was mostly there to work on his game, not his grades.

This often included one-on-one matchups in the middle of the night against teammate Dorell Wright, now with the Miami Heat.

"They would say lights out at 12. We'd wait about an hour for our dorm parents to go to sleep, we'd sneak out and run down to the gym," McClinton recalled this season. "We were kind of in the middle of nowhere. We were scared to go back in the dark. You'd never know what you'd see. You might see bears or something."

While Wright went directly to the NBA, there were not many Division I basketball offers for McClinton, who ended up at Siena College outside Albany, N.Y. One of the top freshmen in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, McClinton would have stayed had not his coach, Rob Lanier, been fired at the end of the season.

"I had a great, strong relationship with Coach Lanier, and when he left, I felt something of me left also," McClinton said.

McClinton's father, Jack, sent out highlight tapes to a number of schools, including Maryland.

"Every shot was a make; there were no misses," the younger McClinton said with a laugh. "When I saw that they [Miami] were going to offer me a scholarship, I saw that Robert Hite was a senior and Guillermo Diaz was probably going to leave early, so I knew the year I sat out I could get that much better and maybe come in and play right away."

Said Miami coach Frank Haith: "To be honest with you, he's exceeded my expectations. I thought Jack would be a nice player, but I didn't know that he'd be one of the best guards in the ACC."

In the year McClinton sat out at Miami in accordance with NCAA rules regarding transfers, Haith got a glimpse of what he has seen the past three seasons.

"He'd have his moments in practice where he'd dominate," Haith recalled.

McClinton has turned those moments in the privacy of practice into a regular occurrence in the Atlantic Coast Conference. During a three-game, 11-day stretch this season, McClinton scored 32 points against Wake Forest, 34 against Duke and a career-high 35 against North Carolina.

Yesterday, he was named a repeat selection to the All-ACC first team.

Going into the ACC tournament that begins Thursday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, McClinton is considered one of the nation's most dangerous long-distance shooters.

Despite a recent shooting slump during which McClinton hit only nine of 37 shots in his past three games, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior led the ACC and finished third in the country in three-point shooting (46.4 percent). He also led the ACC in free-throw shooting (88.5 percent), hitting 16 of 16 in a win Saturday over North Carolina State.

"I always could shoot the ball," said McClinton, whose 19.7-point scoring average was third in the ACC. "Whenever I shoot the ball, I try not to toe the line. I step back because you never know when you're going to get that space. Being a shooter, you don't always get that space. You have to extend that range. That makes it a little easier to drive because people will come out and play you tougher."

ACC coaches have had to make adjustments because McClinton is capable of hitting shots from anywhere. Against Duke last month at Cameron Indoor Stadium, McClinton forced overtime by hitting a shot launched 5 feet beyond the three-point line, his back foot nearly stepping out of bounds on the left side of the court.

"The effort he puts into a 25-footer is what most guys put into a 19-footer," Maryland coach Gary Williams said in January, a few days before McClinton hit three long shots to help the Hurricanes beat the Terps in Coral Gables, Fla.

As a result, McClinton is being compared to undersized shooting guards in the NBA such as Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers, Eddie House of the Boston Celtics and Daniel Gibson of the Cleveland Cavaliers. McClinton finally got on the radar of NBA scouts during last year's NCAA tournament, when he scored 38 points on 12-for-19 shooting (along with hitting all 11 of his free throws) in an opening-round win over St. Mary's.

"If you have one special skill like that, it could be good enough to get you there," said a veteran NBA Western Conference scout who was at the game and who has seen McClinton play this season. "He seems to be very confident. When you look at his background, he's a gym rat. He made himself a better player. He's someone you really have to look at."

Speaking of last year's NCAA tournament, McClinton said: "I knew it was a big opportunity for me to really show the world who Jack McClinton is and all the hard work that I've done."

McClinton likely won't get that opportunity this season unless Miami, which plays Virginia Tech in the opening round, wins the ACC tournament. But there is another reason McClinton wants to extend his career as a Hurricane: He dedicated the season to his paternal grandparents, who died last summer. Along with achievements on the court, McClinton also has received accolades for his academics. He was recently named to the ACC's All-Academic team for the third straight year, making him the first player to earn first-team honors for his play and academics two years in a row since Duke's Trajan Langdon (1997-98 and 1998-99).

"That started when I was little: My parents would never let me go outside and play basketball unless my homework was done," said McClinton, who is taking his final three credits this spring toward a degree in sports management. "I had a rim in my front yard. I'd be out there all night and I'd have to come in some nights because you have people trying to go to sleep and get up for work the next day. I'd get that one last shot up and go in the house and do it all over the next day."

Reflecting on the unusual road he has taken, McClinton said: "I wouldn't say it was frustrating. I always knew I had talent, and I was always a hard worker. I never let something that someone said stop me from thinking that the chance of me going to a high Division I school was [likely]. I heard that a lot. Then I'd go into the gym and work on my stuff trying to get better. It took time for me to get where I'm at right now, but I think it was time that was worth it."

AT A GLANCE

Jack McClinton

Senior, Miami

Nickname: J-Mac

Height, weight: 6 feet 1, 185 pounds

Postion: Guard

Highlights this season:

* Jan. 14 vs. Maryland: Hit three late three-pointers, including game-winner with 24 seconds left, in a 62-60 win.

* Feb. 7 vs. Duke: Hit five of six threes and finished with 34 points, including Miami's last 11 points in regulation and all seven in overtime, in a 78-75 loss.

* Feb. 15 vs. North Carolina: Scored 35 in a 69-65 loss.

* Saturday vs. North Carolina State: Hit all 16 free throws in a 72-64 win.

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