A couple of months ago, another 2004 prospect named DeMarcus Nelson gave a verbal commitment to Duke and it brought forth criticism of the Blue Devils program. People on message boards all over the nation screamed "too early!" and that it was a poor strategy taken by Duke. Nelson's father, Ron, actually proved to be prophetic on the day his son made his decision official when he said, "I'll tell you right now that you're going to see a lot of 2004 kids committing this summer".
He was right.
What Arizona gets in McClellan is a muscular wing capable of playing the two or the three positions while shooting the lights out at the same time. Sound familiar? Well it should. Just imagine a better shooting Michael Dickerson.
"I play just like Michael," said McClellan, who just turned 16 this past December 13th. "He's a little bit quicker than I am but I'm working on that right now. I also am kind of like Gilbert Arenas. I'm a better shooter than Gilbert but he's more of a slasher and quicker to the hole than me."
McClellan, who averaged 22 points, 5.6 rebounds, four assists and two steals per game as a sophomore at Milby, chose Arizona over Texas and some other schools like Marquette, St. John's, Cincinnati and Arkansas. He has been a lifelong fan of Arizona and said he has been dreaming of playing for Lute Olson for a long time.
"I've been wanting to come there since I was in the fifth or sixth grade," he said. "I'm very, very excited. So are my mom and dad. My daddy (George McClellan) liked Arizona a lot when I was growing up but his favorite player was Jason Kidd at California. I was watching a game on TV with Cal and Arizona that went into double overtime when Lamond Murray hit a three or something and that was when I first started loving Arizona.
"That was when Arizona had Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire in the backcourt. Now I have watched Arizona for years and I like how Lute Olson lets his guards and his wings play. A lot of cross-court skip passes with people shooting threes plus all of their guards and wings are in the League (NBA)."
The commitment was made mutual on Monday when McClellan called Olson, Josh Pastner and Rodney Tention to let them know that he would accept their scholarship offer. Since then, he has been excited to say the least.
"They weren't allowed to contact me so I finally got (Olson's) number last week at the AAU Nationals and talked to him and Josh and (Tention). They were all very excited. I talked to them a lot. My bill's going to be kinda high. I'm not big headed or anything but coach Olson said that this was the first time he has ever offered someone my age so they must like me and I know how particular Arizona is in taking players, too."
The general way of thinking about guys that commit before their junior season in high school is that there is such a long time until signing day that verbals are seen as insubstantial. Rarely do the majority of these 15 or 16-year-old kids hold true to their commitments because so much can change over the course of two years. That is not the case with McClellan.
"In my eyes and in Lute Olson's eyes (the commitment) is strong," he said. "I'm ready to sign today. They said they had three scholarships for 2004 and they wanted a true point guard, a wing and a big man. I'm the wing."
With Arizona getting its first commitment from someone in the loaded class of '04, what the Wildcats do with 2003's recruiting class is anyone's guess.
"I know they signed a McDonald's All-American, Hassan Adams. He'll be a junior when I'm there. That guy can go. He jumps out the gym, good god! He came down to Houston this last year and played Oak Hill. While I was watching the game I was like, ‘Carmelo who?' Hassan scored like 33 points and the rest of his team didn't show up that night. I want to meet him and Will Bynum. I like him a lot, he's a muscle-bound little guard and I used to watch him on that show ‘Preps'.
Actually I'm hoping Will Bynum and Salim Stoudamire come out (into the NBA draft) after their junior seasons so I can play more. Nah, I like those two a lot."
McClellan's biggest asset is his shooting ability on the perimeter. As a sophomore, he shot 62% from the field overall, an eye-popping 56% from three-point range and 87% at the free throw line.
"I'll stop and pop from anywhere," he said. "As for my range, you'll have to ask Lute Olson about that. It's like (Damon) Stoudamire and (Jason) Gardner as far as having a conscience goes. They'll pull from anywhere and that's what I like to do. I have no problem pulling up from three on a fast break and coach Olson will tell you that, too. If we're in a two-on-one break I'll get people that set up trying to draw a charge on me but I just pull up and shoot over them and make them look silly."
One thing that appealed to McClellan about Arizona was the fact that nearly all of his games in college will be televised. He said that Pastner told him about Arizona's ten-year waiting list for season tickets and about the excitement the fans bring to the game at Arizona. That helped persuade him to choose Arizona in the end. Not that it was ever an issue to begin with, though.
"A lot of people were recruiting me," McClellan said with a laugh. "I had St. John's after me but it's too cold there. Then there was Marquette and it's Iceberg Land up there. I can't be in that weather. Both of my parents are from Arkansas so they were recruiting me really hard but they never graduate anybody. Neither does Cincinnati. I couldn't go there. I'm going to major in communications and I know Arizona is a great school."
When I asked him what his favorite Arizona team was and if he knew about the great guard lineage at the school, his response was classic.
"You're talking to an Arizona Wildcat fan here, of course I know about them," he said. "Miles Simon, Mike Bibby, Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves, everybody. On this team I like Gardner but I like Luke Walton the most. He can do everything and he reminds me of a stronger Mike Dunleavy."
As much as it seems that McClellan came out of nowhere to become the first commitment for Arizona out of either the '03 or '04 classes, the Wildcats (and Josh Pastner in particular) have known about him for quite some time.
"Man, I've been winking my eye at Josh since last year!" he said. "I didn't know if (Arizona) was interested though. I thought they were after Daniel Gibson but I don't know if he can operate in a structured offense. My coach makes us run a structured offense and has known Lute Olson for a long time.
"Josh Pastner told Lute Olson about me about a year ago and then (Olson) came in and liked the way I played. I heard he liked me because I don't make a lot of turnovers even though I'm a scorer and a shooter."
With the possibility of playing with guys like Hassan Adams, Salim Stoudamire ("oh, and Channing Frye, too. He tore it up last year as a freshman", he adds), McClellan is more than optimistic about his future as an Arizona Wildcat.
"We will win a National Championship while I'm there," he said, completely serious for the first time during the excitement-filled interview. "I don't want to sound big headed and say I'm going to come in and lead us to a Final Four but I'll tell you that we're going to win a National Championship."
The chance to play with All-Americans, a Hall of Fame coach and in front of some of the best fans in America has Jawann McClellan very excited. What more could a 16-year-old kid possibly ask for?
"If you talk to Lute Olson, tell him that I can't wait until they start sending me gear," he said. "I gave all of my stuff away today so I need some shirts and shorts!"
E-mail Ben Hansen at AZPointGuardU@yahoo.com