Stevie Clark bringing more to the game than just lights-out shooting
Oklahoma high school recruit Stevie Clark's strength lies in his shooting abilities
Critics have dismissed Clark as a big-time scorer, not a solid all-around player
Clark is not Anthony Davis, will benefit from his decision to stay in high school
Stevie Clark is one of the most entertaining players in the Class of 2013 to watch.
Standing 5-foot-9 when you factor in the inch-and-a-half of afro, Clark is to high school hoops in Oklahoma what Jimmer Fredette was to college basketball in 2011. A lightning-quick point guard with the athleticism and strength to finish around the rim, Clark's true strength centers on his ability to shoot the ball. He may not have 'in-the-gym' range, but if there isn't a hand in his face when he crosses half-court, defenses are, eventually, going to get burned.
And, like Jimmer, Clark isn't resigned to strictly being a catch-and-shoot player. He's deadly off of the dribble. He's deadly out of the pick-and-roll. He's deadly even when he's stopping on a dime and pulling up from 25 feet after using his blazing speed to split two defenders in the back court. There's a reason that Clark averaged 29 points en route to winning Oklahoma's Gatorade Player of the Year award as a junior and being named first-team All-State for the second straight season while helping Douglass High School win its third straight Class 4A state title.
That's quite an impressive array of hardware for any high school athlete, let alone a player who has yet to begin his senior year. But Clark's innate ability to put points on the scoreboard is one of the reasons that he's only considered a top 75 player in his high school class.
Clark's critics will point to the electrifying performance he had in a tournament in Bossier, La., in January. Clark scored 65 points against Airline (LA) High School, including a 27-for-27 performance from the free throw line and eight 3-pointers, but his Douglass High team still lost the game, 106-92. Simply looking at the box score, it's easy to assume that Clark is nothing but a big-time scorer from a podunk high school in the Sooner State that racks up ridiculous numbers by feasting on lesser competition. Every city in every state has had a high school legend with a similar story. Ask basketball fans in Memphis about T-Head. Or fans in New Haven, Conn., about Bobby Moore. Or those in Richmond, Va., about Jonathan Hargett. The list goes on.
But according to Terry Long, the longtime head coach at Douglass High who recently left to take over the same position at Mustang High (OK) so he can coach his son, the 65 point game is more an example of why Clark will succeed at the next level than why he won't. Douglass High was in a bit of a rebuilding year in 2012. The program had lost a number of players to graduation in 2011, leaving Long with a roster that consisted of Clark and a bunch of kids who had never played varsity ball before. After playing off-the-ball as a freshman and a sophomore, Clark slid over to the point this past season and, to help bring along some of the younger players on his team, made the effort distribute the ball as a point guard would.
That strategy was a disaster against Airline High.
"He's passing the ball to all these freshmen and sophomores and they're all nervous, and the gym is packed. At halftime, I pulled him aside and said, 'we're going to get blown out of this damn gym unless you start shooting the basketball,'" Long said. Douglass was down by as much as 30 in the first half. "We were going to try and take it a possession at a time, and the first three baskets, I promise you, he shot from the center circle. They didn't even hit the rim, just dropped in. Nine straight points, and after that, it was just history. He scored 52 points in the second half. Honestly, if he had made his layups, he might have scored 75 or 80."
Clark wasn't only doing the scoring. He was also playing full-court, pressure defense on Airline's point guard the entire game. He eventually got Douglass within eight before his legs finally gave out on him.
"We had five players foul out and we were pretty young out on the floor," Clark said. "So I had to guard the best player and do all the scoring. I was dead tired and couldn't move anymore. I did all I could, it just didn't work out."
"I didn't think I could get that tired. I thought I was good because I was scoring. You know how you get on a roll and you really don't think you're tired?"
Like that? No. Not even close.
What may be more impressive, however, is that just three days later -- which also included a trip from Louisiana back to Oklahoma -- Clark had 51 points, 15 assists and eight steals in a win over a conference opponent. He didn't play in the fourth quarter.
Those 15 assists weren't exactly an aberration, either. Clark averaged 13 assists for the season. "We had a talk, and I said part of being a point guard is making the right decision, and the right decision right now is for you to shoot the ball," Long said while dismissing concerns that Clark can't develop into a point guard as the talent around him continues to increase. "I don't think it is an issue. He can do either."
In addition to his unselfishness, a major reason that Long isn't concerned about Clark's positional transition is his work ethic. "He's first in the weight room, first in the sprints, in the drills," Long said. "Hardest working kid I've ever coached in my life. His drive to succeed is just unbelievable."
That work ethic extends off the court, as well. Clark has a 3.88 GPA and had finished enough credits that graduating high school and enrolling in college after his junior year wasn't just a possibility, it was an option that Clark's family had to take a long, hard look at.
"My mom preaches getting good grades," he said. "I wouldn't be able to play basketball, I wouldn't be here if I didn't get good grades. It's pretty much something I pride myself on." Clark -- who has cut his list of schools down to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Florida State and UCLA -- plans on majoring in business and wants to "do taxes" once the basketball stops bouncing.
"I like numbers," he said.
Clark and Long have a special relationship. Long played high school ball at Douglass with Clark's uncles and has remained "extremely close" with the family ever since. Clark had known that Long was going to leave when he had the opportunity to coach his son, but facing the reality of playing high school basketball for anyone else was, initially, too much to take.
"I thought I could handle it," Clark said, "but I couldn't. So I thought maybe going to college could help me out. I still talk to him, and he was like, 'Man, you still got a lot of developing to do, you should stay in school and get better.'"
So Clark did, which is probably the best decision for him. He's not Anthony Davis or Andrew Wiggins. Clark's future may one day result in a spot on an NBA roster, but he's certainly not on the fast-track there. Winning four state titles in high school is an incredible achievement. Earning back-to-back State Player of the Year awards is not an easy thing to do. And, frankly, senior year in high school is not something that can ever be replicated.
Clark has his whole life in front of him. There's nothing wrong with enjoying and embracing a final year of adolescence.
Especially when your future could hold a lifetime of number crunching.