Red-Hot Rotnei

2008 prospect Rontei Clarke pours in 80 points in a pair of games last week for Verdigris (Okla.) High, including a season-high 49 Saturday night in a win that move his team just a step away from the state tournament.

Oklahoma prep basketball star Rotnei Clarke – who leads his state with a 36.1 scoring average - showed once again last week why he is more than just a great shooter – albeit he is a fantastic one of those.

Clarke, a 6-0 junior guard from Verdigris High that the University of Arkansas and many others covet for 2008, poured in 31 points in just three quarters in Thursday's rout of Omekah.

He did so despite not hitting a single 3-pointer against trick defenses and instead taking it to rack and showing off his mid-range game.

But Saturday night in an 86-66 Class 3A Regional final win over Holdenville, he bombed in 7 3-pointers and scored a season-high 49 points as Verdigris (21-3) – ranked No. 1 in state in the Tulsa World's Class 3A poll - won its 18th straight game.

"You should have seen his eyes light up when he saw they were playing just straight up defense," noted Conley Clarke, Rotnei's dad and an assistant coach. "He just had a fantastic game."

Indeed Clarke – who had 20 points in the first quarter alone - hit 7-of-12 from 3-point range, 5 of 9 from inside the arc and was a perfect 18-of-18 from the free throw line. He also had 7 assists and 7 rebounds in his sparkling performance.

Clarke – shooting 51 percent from 3-point range (102-of-200), 61 percent overall and 88 percent from the free throw line this season - was named the Tulsa World Player of the Week for his efforts, which have taken on legendary status in his state.

Such as the time he hit 94 of 100 3-pointers in a practice shooting drill with Arkansas head coach Stan Heath looking on.

In addition to the 36 points per game, he is also averaging 9.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 4.1 steals this campaign and is on pace to be the state's career leading scorer before his high school career is over.

"I have worked really hard to improve my all-around game and not be known as just a shooter," Clarke said. "Since I am going to be a point guard in college, I have really concentrated on my passing. I think I see the floor very well and can get it to other guys."

The regional win over Holdenville sets up a Friday night showdown at 8 p.m. with No. 4 Adair (24-1) with the winner of that game heading on to the state tournament the following weekend in Oklahoma City.

The game – which will be played at Whitey Ford Fieldhouse in Bixby – is a rematch of last season's 3A Area title game in which Clarke's late basket gave him 45 points and completed a rally from a 16-point deficit as Verdigris downed Adair 63-62.

"It will be a big challenge," said Clarke, who has 12 offers but seems to favor Arkansas, Tulsa and Oklahoma at the present time.

Clarke, who will be playing in Fayetteville with his Team Texas AAU squad for the Real Deal on the Hill April 6-8, and his team have already accepted an invitation to play in the 2007 Holiday Hoops at Bud Walton Arena.

Clarke's grandma leaves in Fayetteville and wants him to be a Razorback as well as his sister Cassie, a 6-2 sophomore who is 23-point scorer in basketball but likely to be a volleyball player in college.

"I really like the Arkansas program and their coaches," Clarke said. "It is definitely one of the schools I am most interested in."

Tulsa has already offered his sister a volleyball scholarship.

"I really like their program and their coaching staff as well," said Clark, who has 2,300-plus career points and is chasing Ty Harman's state record of 3,619 set back in 1989.

Clarke, a very religious young man who reads the Bible and listens to Christian Music on his IPod before games, has honed his shooting touch by making (not just taking) 500 shots every day.

"God has blessed me with a lot of ability, but my belief is that if you want to be really great at something, you have to willing to put in the time and work to be so," Clarke said.

The three losses that Verdigris suffered this season were in a row – all back in December in the Tournament of Champions, an event that Clarke led in scoring with 104 points in three games.

"Our three losses were in the Tournament of Champions, which were all tough games and all to bigger schools," Clarke said. "Coach Clarke said that tournament could either make our season or break it and it has made it. We've built off that. We are playing pretty well right now and getting better and better every game."

Verdigris is getting great play right now from several players right now in addition to their star according to Clarke.

"We are pretty balanced right now," Clarke said. "They had two running at me, but other guys step up and that's what we need to win a gold ball this year."


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