Although he didn’t carve out a reputation until relatively late, by last winter Chris Clarke had begun to mark himself for high-major college programs. The athletic forward didn’t have a clear position on the court, but he certainly had a clear future in college basketball.
Clarke closed his junior season strongly and hit the road with Boo Williams this past spring. It didn’t take him long to prove underrated, as I observed my first weekend watching him at the Southern Jam Fest in April.
Once EYBL play began, Clarke’s offer list exploded and so did his mystique within the grassroots world. The word “unsung” is likely to follow him for the remainder of his career, and that’s definitely intended to be a compliment. It’s the consistency of his aggression that makes him easy to coach and easy for a player to call his teammate, because he tends to raise everyone’s level of play.
Clarke helped lead Boo Williams to a deep run at the Peach Jam as well as triumph at the Super Showcase in July. He also stood out at the Lawson/Oladipo camp.
I mentioned above that college coaches would express their appreciation of him in a hypothetical survey. Well, colleague Evan Daniels actually did query them following the summer and Clarke was named Most Competitive in the class.
That’s when things got weird. Clarke pledged to the Volunteers but, within a week, had backed off that commitment and flipped to Virginia Tech, to which he signed in November.
Now that the craziness of that week has subsided, he’s ready to finish his prep career on a high note and prepare for ACC competition.
Clarke’s reputation for competitiveness is well earned. He gets every bit of mileage he can out of his 6-5, 190-pound frame, throwing his body into the scrum game after game, possession after possession.
|Clark possesses outstanding timing to reap steals|
He does his best work utilizing his athleticism in the open floor, whether he’s sprinting ahead for a dunk or jumping passing lanes to create his own transition. Clarke’s quickness and hard work on defense should pay off immediately for the Hokies and himself, given that Buzz Williams will insist that his guys play full-tilt.
Clarke’s ballhandling has improved substantially, one reason that he elevated his production during the summer. He now uses a crossover dribble to shake himself loose and can attack left along the baseline, rather than always with his right hand.
He’s also a fine passer. Clarke keeps his head up on the move and makes kick-outs, interior dishes or slick touch passes on the break. He makes far more plays at full speed than most of his contemporaries can muster.
All told, he averaged 13 points per game (for a balanced team) while shooting 59 percent from the field on the EYBL circuit. He also pulled down eight rebounds per contest, an excellent number for a wing.
Combined with his excellent workrate and toughness, it’s no wonder he holds down the No. 71 national ranking and slots No. 14 among wing forwards.
Although he has made progress, Clarke remains far more effective in the fullcourt game than he does in the halfcourt. And given that there’s more structure in college basketball than high school — and especially AAU — he’ll need to add refinement.
His jump shot needs improvement. He attempted just 15 threes in 23 games with Boo, making only three of those 15. Credit to him for not forcing a shot that’s not yet in his wheelhouse, but that makes him too easy to defend in the halfcourt. He also shot just 63 percent from the free throw line, another area that could haunt him at the next level.
Additionally, Clarke has a tendency to overdribble once he gets into the paint, leading to turnovers.
Clarke is a tremendous fit for Virginia Tech, which will love his desire to battle irrespective of context. The Hokies likely won’t feature one of the conference’s most glamorous teams the next couple years, and Clarke — and his future head coach — thrive under those circumstances.
His short-term may be energy and defense, without much in the way of offensive stats, while he gradually evolves into a more potent scorer during his upperclassman years.