After leading the Hurricanes men’s basketball team to a Sweet Sixteen appearance in March and graduating from the University of Miami in June, two 23-year-olds have begun their pro basketball careers. Sheldon McClellan and Ángel Rodríguez have taken drastically different paths, but both appear to be on their way to success in the pros.
McClellan, who led the Canes in scoring last season on route to making the second team All-ACC, was not selected in June’s NBA Draft. However, McClellan signed a partially guaranteed two-year contract with the Washington Wizards shortly after the draft ended. He needed to prove himself to turn that contract into an official roster spot.
McClellan struggled in the NBA Summer League. He averaged just 2.6 points per game in five games with the Wizards. He did enough to be named to the Wizards’ training camp roster in September.
McClellan appeared in five of the team’s seven preseason games, averaging seven points in just more than 15 minutes per game. His standout performance was in a win against the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 6, where he racked up 20 points and four assists. After the preseason concluded on Oct. 21, it was announced that McClellan had officially made the cut to be on the Wizards’ roster.
“Extremely happy for him,” senior guard Davon Reed said in a press conference on Monday. “That’s the goal at the end of the day, and to have someone you played with be there, we are nothing but happy for him.”
Head Coach Jim Larrañaga talked about the news of McClellan making an NBA roster being one of the highlights of his year.
“One of my happiest moments of 2016 was to get a text saying that I could include one more player on my wall of NBA players, and that Sheldon McClellan would be a Washington Wizard this year,” Larrañaga said. “I am so happy for him; he is deeply deserving of that acknowledgment.”
Larrañaga spoke about McClellan’s combinations of skills being fit for the highest level of professional basketball in the world.
“The NBA has certain criteria that it looks for and he meets all the criteria,” Larrañaga said. “Size, strength, speed, quickness, jumping ability, shooting ability, driving ability and the ability to guard and defend different players; I think Sheldon is well on his way to having a very long NBA career.”
Redshirt senior forward Kamari Murphy believes McClellan’s place in the league can help Hurricanes players as well.
“It’s good to have someone that close to us in that environment to give us feedback on what to expect and the things that we need to do to get to that level,” Murphy said.
Reed thinks the news will provide extra motivation for the newcomers on the team.
“It’s good for the young guys as well,” Reed said. “When they hear about his work ethic and what it takes, it inspires some of our players.”
Rodríguez has taken a much different post-collegiate route. Like his former teammate, McClellan, Rodríguez was able to make an NBA Summer League roster, representing the San Antonio Spurs. However, he was unable to draw the eye of an NBA team, so he decided to explore other options.
In July, Rodríguez signed a 10-month contract with Cholet Basket, a small-town team in the top division of the French league. The Puerto Rican has started at point guard in three of his team’s first four games of the season. He’s averaging 14 points per game, making him Cholet’s second leading scorer.
“I talked to Ángel twice this weekend, he’s doing very well,” Larrañaga said. “His team is 2-2. He is happy with the way he’s playing.”
Rodríguez has had four American teammates with him helping him acclimate to the adjustment of moving from Miami to France, those being Isaiah Swann, Graham Brown, David Noel and Benjamin Dewar.
Both McClellan and Rodríguez were not originally Hurricanes. McClellan began his collegiate career at the University of Texas, transferring to UM after his sophomore year. Rodríguez joined the Hurricanes for his last two college seasons after starting out at Kansas State University.