Seniors led Hurricanes in Sweet 16 season

The No. 10 Hurricanes’ season came to an end after falling to No. 6 Villanova in the Sweet 16 last Thursday, keeping Miami one win short of the program’s first-ever Elite Eight berth. The strength of Miami, not only in the NCAA Tournament but also throughout the season, was the play of its seniors.

Starting guards Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan paced the Canes’ offense while center Tonye Jekiri anchored the defense. Forward Ivan Cruz Uceda, a deadly three-point shooter, provided frontcourt depth off the bench.

McClellan, an elite wing defender and Miami’s leading scorer, transferred to the Canes from Texas after his sophomore year. While playing in the Big 12, McClellan struggled to shoot with consistency, including a sophomore campaign in which he shot 27 percent from beyond the arc. After transferring to Miami, he became one of the most efficient shooting guards in the country. He finished first in shooting percentage in the ACC among guards this season, having shot 50.4 percent from the field.

“Well, I went through a lot of struggles at Texas. I mean, I actually felt I had two great years on the court, but it was just certain things that people didn’t see, whether it was during practice or during the games that I wasn’t comfortable with,” McClellan said. “So I felt like I needed a change of venue. Once I found out Angel was transferring, I wanted to play with him. I knew he would be a great teammate and I knew we would be a great team.”

Rodriguez spent his first two collegiate seasons at Kansas State. After redshirting a season, he began his junior season as the Canes’ starting point guard. Rodriguez had an inconsistent first season in Miami, ultimately finishing the year shooting 33.7 percent from the field.

In the off-season leading up to his senior campaign, Rodriguez put on some additional muscle and worked on his conditioning, which allowed him to finish at the rim more consistently. Rodriguez improved his play throughout his senior year, shooting 44.2 percent this season.

Jekiri, a native of Nigeria, only played two years of organized basketball before heading to Miami in 2012. The seven-footer joined the Canes as a talented but raw prospect. He saw limited playing time in his first two seasons with the Canes.

Jekiri began to fulfill his potential in his junior year, as he led the ACC in rebounding with 9.9 boards per game. Head Coach Jim Larrañaga took notice of Jekiri’s improved play.

“Physically, he has gotten bigger and stronger; from a maturity standpoint, he has done very well with his school work, he has done very well with fitting in … I think he has matured in very positive way,” Larrañaga said before the 2015-16 season.

Unlike Jekiri, Uceda came to the Canes already a polished shooter. Uceda struggled on the defensive end but shot 44.8 percent on three-pointers in his final season.

Of the four seniors, McClellan has the best NBA outlook, although Jekiri is not far behind him. McClellan is projected to be a second-round pick, while Jekiri could sign with an NBA team as a free agent if he does not get drafted.