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On Pins Like Needles
L. Jon Wertheim
March 19, 2001
The spindly gams if newcomer Keon Clark late given the Raptors a lift
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March 19, 2001

On Pins Like Needles

The spindly gams if newcomer Keon Clark late given the Raptors a lift

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Beanpoles. Nine-irons. Dipsticks. Pipe cleaners. You name it, and Raptors reserve forward Keon Clark has heard it about his legs, which are so slender that they make his size-16 high-tops look like clown shoes. Good-natured about his extreme lower extremities, Clark prefers a more flattering comparison. "My legs pack a lot of power," he says. "I call them my rocket boosters."

Clark has achieved liftoff with the Raptors, who acquired him from the Nuggets in a six-player trade on Jan. 12. Endowed with a 40-inch vertical leap and an 89-inch wingspan, Clark is giving Vince Carter a run for his money as Toronto's most highlight-worthy dunker. "I especially like the follow-ups," Clark says. "I can get free for those because teams key on Vince."

In time, opponents may have to key on Keon. Deceptively strong at 6'11" and 220 pounds—"Think of me as a greyhound, baby," he says—through Sunday he was averaging 9.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.50 blocks in 22.4 minutes as a Raptor, surpassing his production in Denver in every category. Clark's touch in the low post has impressed Toronto coach Lenny Wilkens enough to call plays for him, something Dan Issel seldom did in Denver. When Clark scored 15 points, including two swooping dunks, swatted five shots and grabbed seven boards in Toronto's 99-92 win over the Nuggets on Feb. 8, he couldn't contain his glee. On several trips down-court he winked at Issel and thanked him for making the trade. "It was great seeing Dan get mad because of me and not at me," Clark says.

Clark's path to the pros was as unlikely as his physique is ungainly. He was a happy-go-lucky kid at Danville (Ill.) High, as interested in watching cartoons and making stink bombs as he was in playing basketball. Still good enough to earn a scholarship to Temple, Clark went to Irvine ( Calif.) Valley College because he hadn't passed enough core courses. He left after one season when money got tight and returned to Danville to work as a hospital orderly. Encouraged by UNLV, which had recruited him out of high school, Clark did a stint at Dixie College in St. George, Utah, then joined the Rebels. In his senior season, scouts pegged him as a high lottery pick, but his stock dropped when he tested positive for marijuana. "That was immaturity," says Clark, who was chosen 13th by the Magic in 1998 before being traded to Denver.

At 25 he's still very much in touch with his inner child. With the Nuggets, Clark was known to steal locker room lightbulbs, start food fights and "generally keep things loose," as Denver center Raef LaFrentz puts it. Says Toronto center Antonio Davis, "Keon's been a great fit, the way he's played with so much energy. But how he does it on those long, skinny legs, I'll never know."

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