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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “After year of tragedy, J-Mac is back”

    Guard Jawann McClellan crouches in a defensive stance in Arizonas exhibition game against Victoria Nov. 11 in McKale Center. The junior fought through adversity last season but is back to fill a key role on Arizonas perimeter.
    Guard Jawann McClellan crouches in a defensive stance in Arizona’s exhibition game against Victoria Nov. 11 in McKale Center. The junior fought through adversity last season but is back to fill a key role on Arizona’s perimeter.

    When Jawann McClellan steps on the basketball court, he is not alone.

    Although no one appears to be near him, McClellan speaks. His father, George, who died of a heart attack while driving in the summer of 2005, listens.

    “”I talk to him – believe it or not – during the game,”” McClellan said. “”I feel that he’s still right there talking to me and in the stands.””

    Before practice, McClellan tells his dad, “”Come on, it’s time to go to work.””

    “”Handle your business,”” the elder McClellan responds.

    It’s the line the younger McClellan heard all his life before George died at age 55, and it’s the line McClellan continues to hear every time he plays basketball or every time yet another obstacle jumps in his way.

    In just over a year, McClellan has faced ankle, knee and wrist injuries, with the latter two requiring surgery. He has seen his cousin brought up on murder charges, saw his house in Houston hit by Hurricane Rita and lost his father, who he had previously described as “”his best friend.””

    At one point, McClellan said he thought he was “”cursed,”” but he continues to keep the faith.

    McClellan likes to watch the Jimmy V Classic every year. He stares at the screen when the late Jimmy Valvano, who coached at North Carolina State, makes his 1993 ESPYs speech while stricken with the cancer from which he would die less than two months later.

    “”Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,”” Valvano says in the speech. It would be the motto of the Jimmy V Foundation to fight cancer. It is also McClellan’s motto.

    “”That’s what I try to live by now,”” McClellan said.

    Through it all, the junior guard from Houston keeps his head up high. Still nagged by a knee injury that keeps him from practicing two days in a row, McClellan is confident he can return to the form that made him a McDonald’s All-American as well as a key contributor during Arizona’s run to the Elite Eight his freshman year.

    A tough year and a half

    • June 2005: Father George dies
  • Fall semester 2005: Academically ineligible
  • October 2005: Hurricane Rita damaged his Houston house
  • January 2006: Season-ending surgery on his left wrist
  • April 2006: Underwent surgery on his right knee to repair cartilage
  • “”Jawann’s been very tough,”” said his roommate, senior point guard Mustafa Shakur. “”He’s been very optimistic and looking forward to a big season.””

    McClellan, who averaged 5.8 points per game his freshman season, will be a contributor to the Wildcats this season if he can stay healthy. In the team’s first exhibition game, McClellan scored 19 points in 20 minutes, while making all three of his 3-point attempts, a threat Arizona sorely missed last season.

    After a summer when McClellan went home to grieve with his family and as a result missed a math class that made him ineligible for the first semester, McClellan returned to the court Jan. 12 and logged 32 minutes in a loss to Oregon State.

    McClellan played only 13 more minutes the rest of the season after injuring his wrist the following game against Oregon State, just two days later.

    “”It was just bound to happen,”” McClellan said. “”I wasn’t having a good year, and I think it was a message from God that you need to sit this year out. I really did want to sit out last year anyway and not come back in January and play half of the season.

    “”It ended up working out for the best. Even at the beginning of this year, it was still hard, just sitting there watching, but my game is slowly progressing I’m getting back to old Jawann.””

    But the old Jawann isn’t acceptable for the new Jawann on the court. That’s because the new Jawann wants to incorporate the games of three NBA players into his own.

    “”I’m trying to move without the ball better like (Pistons guard) Rip Hamilton, I want to shoot like (former UA and Hawks guard) Salim (Stoudamire) and I want to rebound like (Nuggets forward) Carmelo Anthony,”” McClellan said.

    When McClellan struggled with not playing, Shakur and fellow roommate Kirk Walters were there for support, both of whom have seen the ups and downs of playing college basketball.

    “”He’s really done a good job,”” Walters said. “”He got the chance that summer (after his father died) to go home, and even though it prevented him from playing at the beginning of the year, it really helped him out just to go home and take care of business, and even just last year, it was really a struggle because he’s in and he’s out again within two games, but I think it just made him more hungry and ready to go.”” Both say McClellan has handled himself well through the tough times.

    “”We just try to be there for him and just keep him at ease and keep him laughing and just have fun,”” Shakur said. “”He’s been through a ton of adversity in the last couple of years, but he’s dealt with it well.””

    McClellan said his mother Mary and his girlfriend have been his biggest supporters, though, consoling him and picking him up when need be.

    And trainer Justin Kokoskie has been there with him through thick and thin as well, rehabilitating McClellan constantly.

    “”If it wasn’t for (Justin), I wouldn’t be near where I’m at today,”” he said. As his father watches from above, McClellan said it has been even harder for him not playing. But as the season nears and he readies himself for a new beginning, McClellan can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment with how far he’s come.

    “”A lot of people back home look up to me, and it’s difficult to go back home and hear ‘what happened, what happened?’ and now they don’t have to say that,”” he said. “”Everybody’s proud of me. I didn’t give up.””

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