Jawann's journey

By Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Freshman phenom learns ups and downs of college game at UA

Imagine this is your first seven games with the UA men's basketball team.

Imagine scoring 19 points in 21 minutes against Wyoming Nov. 30 and lifting your team to a 98-70 victory.

Imagine a week before, against Michigan, notching 11 points and eight rebounds, and pushing the Wildcats to a 61-60 win in overtime.

Imagine Sunday, against then-No. 21 Mississippi State, adding three points in 22 minutes and still taking home the 68-64 upset.

So much role shifting would fluster any young, developing recruit, especially one considered the top player in his state.

But for Houston-born Jawann McClellan, all it takes for him to be satisfied is a peek at the final score.

Men's Hoops' Winter Break Schedule

Sunday vs. Utah - 11 a.m.
Dec. 18 at Marquette - 12 p.m.
Dec. 21 vs. Manhattan - 6: 30 p.m.
Dec. 28 vs. E. Washington - 6:30 p.m.
Dec. 30 vs. TBA - TBA
Jan 2 vs. Arizona State - 1:30 p.m.
Jan. 6 at California - 8:30 p.m.
Jan 8 at Stanford - 1 p.m.

"All-Pac-10 freshman, Pac-10 freshman of the year, all that stuff doesn't mean anything to me," McClellan says. "I just want to win, because when you win, that's when you get recognized."

McClellan will get another chance to be recognized when the No. 15 Wildcats return to McKale Center Saturday to take on Utah fresh off a Arizona's win over Mississippi State in the John Wooden Classic last weekend.

As the team's most valuable player his senior year at Charles H. Milby, McClellan received a cabinet-full of recognition. He averaged 23.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists, leading the Buffs to a 39-0 record and the Class 5A State Championship. Later selected as a McDonald's All-America, McClellan was included in the top 10 of many scouts' shooting guard lists.

There was just one problem: McClellan had already committed to a school after his junior year: Arizona.

"Everybody in the country knew how well I can score, but that's why I came here," McClellan says. "I could have went anywhere and started, but I came here so people could push me."

So far, McClellan has pushed the opposition early and often for the No. 15 Wildcats. With his instant offense and long, strong limbs, the 6-foot-4, 214-pound McClellan has been compared to former UA guard Michael Dickerson (1994-1998), who raised eyebrows of his own his rookie season.

"I know a lot about him," McClellan says. "I know he was a tough kid. I met him when he played for the Houston Rockets. He's a very tough kid. He's a very quiet person. Stays to himself. But he was a great scorer, too. People compare me to him, and (to former UA guard) Sean Elliott."

McClellan is averaging 7.6 points, four rebounds and 16.4 minutes in seven games this season, scoring more than Dickerson did in his first year (4.8) and shooting better from the free-throw line than Elliott did in his (.778, to .760 in 1986). But McClellan's 3-point shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio this season (.333 and .22, respectively) show there's still progress to be made with the Wildcats' top recruit.

"Obviously, Jawann's only a freshman, but at the same stage, I'd say they're very similar," said assistant coach Josh Pastner comparing McClellan and Dickerson, with whom Pastner played from 1996-1998. "They can get to the middle of the lane. They're strong. They're big, tough, strong guys. Tough matchups for the opponent."

As with many up-and-coming freshmen on veteran-laden squads, McClellan has found court time not for his scoring potential, but for his defense, helping Arizona cut its points allowed per game by more than 20 from 2003 (58.0 through yesterday).

"I just stay aggressive, you know, playing defense," McClellan says. "I just play hard all the time and just give full effort."

McClellan's enthusiasm on the court, Pastner says, has helped alleviate the team's struggling frontcourt, as well as its need for a dominant top scorer.

"We're counting on him," Pastner says. "When he gets into the game, whether Jawann or somebody else, they have to produce, period. We're expecting production, and if you don't produce, we have options. We'll take you out and put somebody else in. But Jawann, as of this point, has produced."

"Bottom line, he's a flat-out winner," he says.

McClellan knows that with his talent and success comes a degree of responsibility. He shies away from questions about his time at Arizona, knowing that in today's college basketball landscape, a professional career may call for him in the next couple of years. But while McClellan admits an early exit is possible, his sights right now, he says, are focused on the present.

"I just want to do the best I can, have a winning attitude," he says.

"It's all up to coach Olson and this great program. If I'm here, I'm here. If I'm not, this program ... (has) a Hall of Fame coach."

In his third year at Arizona, Dickerson helped lead the Wildcats to a national championship, a goal McClellan steadfastly seeks.

"Hopefully, I can do the same way," he says, "lead my team to the national championship."

Pastner is a little more enthusiastic.

"We hope he leads us to four national titles," he says.

Imagine that.