Sheldon McClellan averaged 26 points as a senior at Bellaire High School — he says he had to shoot a lot for his team to win games — but came to Austin this summer with a surprising reluctance.
During fall camp, head coach Rick Barnes would stop practice every time McClellan passed up an open shot and then make him run up and down the court.
“That got annoying,” McClellan said. “Instantly.”
McClellan got Barnes off his back a bit Tuesday night against UT-Arlington, coming off the bench to score 13 of Texas’ first 17 points on his way to a career-high of 23.
“My shot was falling, and my teammates did a good job of finding me in the open court,” McClellan said. “I was just trying to find my shot, play within the team.”
Subbing in for Julien Lewis after a little more than one minute of play in the first half, McClellan scored a quick eight points in just two minutes of work. The guy who Barnes calls “a closet athlete” for his dunking ability instead did most of his damage from behind the arc, hitting three of four 3-pointers in the first half.
“When I play, everybody says, ‘watch the shooter,’” McClellan said. “Coach wants me to shoot the ball when I’m open.”
The 6-foot-4 McClellan ended the first half with 17 points as Texas clung to a 35-28 lead. Only one other Longhorn scored more than four points — Jonathan Holmes had seven while J’Covan Brown had just two — so McClellan’s contributions were certainly appreciated.
“It puts a smile on my face, knowing what those guys can do,” Brown said.
By the time the final buzzer rang, McClellan had a career-high with 23 points on 72-percent shooting from the field, just the second Longhorn to score more than 20 this season, not a typical stat line for a sixth-man.
“Just from watching him in high school, I knew he was a great player. You can watch on tape, Sheldon can do it all,” said UT-Arlington head coach Scott Gross. “There’s a reason he was [highly ranked] coming out of high school. Some of those shots he hit were amazing. He’s a high-level player.”
Which begs the question: why was McClellan ever so passive?
“I was just kind of hesitant to shoot once I got to college,” he said.
Which, to Barnes, doesn’t make any sense at all.
“I’d say, ‘How do you know you’re going to miss if you don’t shoot it?’ He’s tremendously talented, and he still doesn’t know how good he can be,” said Barnes. “He’s tall, he’s long. Every time the ball leaves his hands, you think it’s going in.”
Printed on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 as: Freshman comes off of the bench, sparks team with career high 23 points