We continue our review of the 2012-13 Texas Longhorns basketball season with Sheldon McClellan, who announced his decision to transfer out of the program shortly after Texas' season-ending loss to Houston.
I devoted a segment of my season preview to the tantalizing potential of Texas' talented sophomore wing, and his importance to this young Texas team finding success:
It took about 15 seconds last season to see that McClellan doesn't fully understand just how good a player he already is, and I decided pretty quickly [last year] that he's going to be one of those players who suddenly explodes when the light finally comes on... right around his 24th birthday.
What would be a lot more fun, of course, is if he started to put it all together while he was still at Texas. Even if he doesn't get all the way there, if he were to take a leap forward this year, as opposed to just a step, things suddenly become very interesting with this team, because McClellan has as much scoring potential as a college player can hope to have.
Two games into the season, I wrote about how McClellan looked like he may well be on the cusp of a big breakout season, but his -- and with him the team's -- season quickly unraveled from there. McClellan found himself out of the starting line up in the Maui Invitational and spent the rest of the season bouncing back and forth between promising outings and mystifyingly weak play.
When the season mercifully came to an end and McClellan confirmed his unhappiness by announcing his transfer, I speculated that Rick Barnes shoulders a healthy portion of the blame, but the verdict won't come in for another couple of years when we're able to evaluate whether McClellan was able to make the most of his talents in a different environment or if instead his limitations are of his own making. I won't be surprised either way.
What The Numbers Say
Regardless of who deserves to shoulder more of the blame, there's no question McClellan's sophomore season wound up a major disappointment -- and his numbers reflect it. Asked to play a featured, alpha role in the offense, McClellan wound up shooting more jump shots and under-utilizing his exceptional ability to get to the rim and score, and with it McClellan's offensive efficiency cratered.
McClellan's inability to square himself and shoot three-pointers from a consistent base remained puzzling and his 27% shooting from beyond the arc was outright pitiful for a player of his caliber. Given his athletic ability, both Sheldon's work on the glass (decent but unremarkable) and playing defense (consistently lacking, as perhaps reflected in McClellan's freakishly low foul rate) left something to be desired. The only area where McClellan improved and excelled was in scoring with the clock stopped, upping both the rate at which he got to the free throw line and the rate at which he converted them into points.
All told, the bottom line is this: as a pure scorer playing a complimentary role as a freshman, McClellan was terrifically valuable; as the featured offensive player a year later, he really struggled. Whether Barnes handled him the right way or not is debatable, but given the composition of the roster it's hard to fault Texas' head coach for trying to make McClellan embrace the featured role. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a square peg and a round hole.
Although McClellan's season was disappointing overall, it was far from devoid of good moments; he was the team's leading scorer in 15 of 34 games, after all, including five efforts in which he tallied 20 or more points (four of which were wins). McClellan's best game of the season was probably the regular season finale in Lubbock, when he helped lead Texas to a 71-69 overtime win over the Red Raiders by scoring 27 points without coughing up a single turnover in 37 minutes.
For me, though, McClellan's season highlight came a month before that, right here in Austin, on the night Myck Kabongo made his season debut. Texas knocked off Iowa State 89-86 in a thrilling, double-overtime classic that was one of the best basketball games I've ever attended and which was ultimately won in the second OT by Sheldon McClellan. After a forgettable first 45 minutes and with Kabongo fouled out, McClellan stepped up and scored all 10 points in double overtime, and sealed the game with a critical rebound and steal.
And finally, for a video highlight, let's go all the way back to Thanksgiving and Texas' trip to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. There wasn't much to like about the way Texas played in that tournament, but from my spot in the bleachers I happened to capture on video what was probably the Longhorns' best play of the entire tournament, when McClellan crossed over his man, drove the lane, and dished a beautiful wrap-around dime to Cam Ridley for the flush.
Following Texas' deflating loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament, the Longhorns limped into their match up with the Houston Cougars in the College Basketball Invitational looking defeated before they'd even played the game. And Sheldon McClellan looked like he'd already made up his mind to transfer, and no longer cared. His play certainly refected it, and McClellan wrapped up his Longhorn career by scoring just 6 points on 2-of-13 shooting.
Season Grade: C+
Whether that grade deserves to be higher or lower probably depends on how much of his struggles were of his own making, and how much blame Barnes deserves for exacerbating McClellan's weaknesses rather than improving them. At his best, McClellan was once again a strong player with elite scoring ability, but at his worst he was once again a liability both for his defense and his inability to keep his head in the game. Overall, McClellan earns a C+ on my report card, awarded credit for his numerous strong performances, but dragged down by his inability to make the most of his abilities and troubling tendency to lose focus.
McClellan's decision to transfer ends his journey wearing the burnt orange. As of now, McClellan has yet to decide where he'll play next season, but it won't be in the Big 12. Best of luck to the kid, and I hope he's able to make the most of his immense abilities.