MIAMI — The text messages kept coming in for Jack McClinton, encouraging notes sent to the star guard after the Miami Hurricanes received their invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
"I was just responding, 'Thank you.' 'Thank you.' 'Thank you,' " McClinton said Monday. "It was a great feeling."
And McClinton received a congratulatory call from his father, who plans to attend the first-round matchup Friday against St. Mary's in North Little Rock, Ark.
"I've been on a natural high," McClinton said. "It feels good to finally make the tournament. All the hard work is starting to pay off."
The junior hopes to lead the Hurricanes to a win in the school's first NCAA game since 2002. The first Miami player to make the All-ACC team, he is the Hurricanes' top scorer and their emotional leader, coach Frank Haith said.
"It's really an honor to coach a kid like Jack," Haith said. "He's got tremendous character, and there's nothing he is lacking. And his competitive spirit is contagious."
A transfer from Siena who sat out his 2005-06 season, McClinton was part of the Miami team that won 12 games a year ago. This season the Hurricanes were a preseason pick for last place.
"That really opened my eyes," he said. "We had a great team, and they had us picked last."
The Hurricanes instead finished 8-8 in the league, and they're 22-10 overall and seeded seventh in the South Region.
McClinton is averaging 17 points. He led the ACC in 3-point shooting (41 percent) and free-throw shooting (92 percent).
"I've worked so hard at basketball," McClinton said. "I never stopped working. I'm just glad I can go out and help my team get wins."
The Hurricanes won their first 12 then overcame a 2-6 start in the league. A win against Duke was their first over a top-five team in nine years.
Now Miami has a chance for its first NCAA Tournament win since 2000 and the fourth in school history.
"Miami's not known as a basketball school. It's a football school," McClinton said. "When we started out 12-0, people were like, 'Maybe Miami's for real.' "
Reaching the tournament has long been McClinton's goal. The Baltimore native said he was "born into" basketball, and his early memories included watching televised college games in March.
"I was like, 'Man, one day I really want to be there,' " he said. "That day came, and it's a great feeling."
He said his father had a message when he phoned on Selection Sunday: "You've got to this point, no need to stop now."
If the Hurricanes beat St. Mary's, their second-round game would likely be against No. 2-seeded Texas.
"You never know who you're going to be playing in the tournament," McClinton said. "It's just a blessing just to be there."