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UNLV's Patrick McCaw doesn't want to be a sleeper anymore

The UNLV sophomore is one of the biggest sleepers in the 2016 NBA Draft, but his hope is to be even more than this class' best-kept secret.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Irvin knew he had a special group when he started to assemble the Mac Irvin Fire in 2013. In Jahlil Okafor, he had a dominating physical presence and the consensus No. 1 player in the country. Cliff Alexander gave the Fire a second top-five overall recruit and another menacing big man. Irvin had a third McDonald's All-American in point guard Jalen Brunson, one more top-100 guard in Marcus LoVett and another top-100 player on the wing in Josh Cunningham.

That left Patrick McCaw much further down the roster. McCaw often came off the bench in those days, averaging only 6.5 points per game in EYBL play. The skinny 6'5 shooter from Saint Louis was an outlier on a team full of blue-chip recruits from Chicago. Nevertheless, his coach knew he always had the potential to be something more.

"The people that really knew Pat knew he was a pro," Irvin told SB Nation. "If you sat down and watched his game, it's no surprise he's in this draft."

During a time when many players hunt their own numbers to gain attention from college coaches, McCaw was happy to play a role on a loaded squad. At a level that is often chided for placing little emphasis on defense, McCaw turned himself into a perimeter stopper. His willingness to play a team game might have diminished his recognition on the grassroots trail, but there's no question it's paying off now.

After just two years at UNLV, McCaw has grown from the No. 231 player in the class of 2014 to a possible first-round draft pick. At last, he sounds like a player who is finally ready to embrace the spotlight.

"I feel like I'm a lifelong sleeper," McCaw said at the NBA Draft Combine in April. "Two years ago, I don't think a lot of people even knew my name."

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The 2014 recruiting class was supposed to change everything for Dave Rice and UNLV. Armed with extra momentum on the recruiting path after Anthony Bennett became the surprise No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Rice delivered the No. 4 class in the country.

Five-star shooting guard Rashad Vaughn was the headliner, and he was joined by No. 23 Dwayne Morgan, No. 28 Goodluck Okonoboh and No. 175 Jordan Cornish. McCaw was the most lightly regarded prospect of the five-man class.

McCaw carved out an early role as UNLV's defensive stopper, and his offense quickly followed suit. When Vaughn went down with a season-ending knee injury in February, McCaw ran with the opportunity, scoring 20 or more points three times in the season's final month.

McCaw had established himself as a solid two-way wing player in year one, but another great recruiting class was coming in to overshadow him. This time, five-star center Stephen Zimmerman and four-star wing Derrick Jones stole the spotlight, but a young team failed to translate wins on the recruiting trail into wins on the court. Rice was fired after an 0-3 start in Mountain West play and UNLV's season essentially devolved into a nightmare.

But McCaw used the opportunity to grow his game and become the team's only bright spot. He was electric in the Maui Invitational, dropping 20 points against both UCLA and Indiana. He played 55 minutes a triple-overtime win against Air Force in the Mountain West Tournament, finishing with 27 points and 14 rebounds on 12-of-19 shooting. The next day, he dropped 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting against Fresno State.

When the season ended, McCaw was the team leader in points, assists, steals, three-pointers and minutes. While everything else crumbled around him at UNLV, the least-heralded recruit on the team had become its most indispensable player. Draft buzz slowly built and it made his decision to leave school an easy one.

"When I look back and think about how far I've come, to be in this position now, it's crazy to think about that I have this opportunity," McCaw said. "A lot of guys have always been in that spotlight. I've never had the spotlight. I've always had to work."

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Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

What's an NBA team getting with Patrick McCaw?

At 6'7 with a 6'10 wingspan, he has the measurables and athleticism of a pro shooting guard. He's always been skinny and that remains an issue after he weighed in at only 181 pounds at the combine. But in a league that craves 3-and-D wings, McCaw fits the mold.

He made 37 percent of the 341 threes he took over two years in college. His speed is immediately evident on film, and it helped him score a fantastic 1.45 points per possession in transition, according to Draft Express. He has also a great feel for the game that was honed by years of playing point guard before a high school growth spurt gave him the size to play the wing. Being the son of a high school coach didn't hurt, either.

The thing NBA teams are really going to like about McCaw is his defense. He finished in the top 30 in the entire country in steal rate last season, something Irving has seen for years.

"That's his bread and butter," Irving said. "He always guarded the other team's best player. He's so long. You can put him on the point guard and he'll pick him up full court. Then you can put him on a wing and he can fight through picks."

"I hate when someone scores on me," McCaw said. "That's the worst feeling to me."

McCaw enters the league with no ego and no sense of entitlement. He's been overshadowed by more highly touted teammates since he started playing and always had to put in work to gain recognition. It's a mindset that's gotten him this far.

As the 2016 NBA Draft approaches, it finally feels like time for people to stop sleeping on Patrick McCaw.