CLAYTON — Gary Clark is only a junior, but he’s likely to get as much high school basketball attention as almost any big man in the Triangle.
The lanky 6-7, 205-pound post player has been a key factor in Clayton’s success for two seasons, and as an upperclassman the expectations around him are higher.
As a 6-4 freshman, he averaged 13 points a game and led the Comets to a 19-8 record, second in the Greater Neuse River 4A, and a victory in the first round of the state playoffs.
Last season Clark, who wears a size 17 shoe, averaged a double-double of 16.9 points and 14 rebounds as the Comets went 21-7, finished second in the conference and won two games in the state playoffs.
But now he says he wants bigger and better things. Like first place in the conference, a spot the loaded Garner program has denied his Comets twice, and a chance at a state title.
“You don’t get a player like Gary every year, and because of the talent in the players surrounding him we’re going to have high expectations,” said Clayton coach Denny Medlin, who is beginning his 15th season at the helm. “But there are a lot of good teams and good coaches in this area. Our goal is to go try to win each game that we play and then try to win our conference.”
Clark is no well-kept secret, and has been on college recruiters’ radars since soon after he stepped on the Clayton campus.
He already has offers from Virginia Commonwealth, East Carolina, UNC Wilmington, UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro, Mississippi, Old Dominion and Radford, and he said he hears frequently from N.C. State, Clemson, Wake Forest and Miami.
“Some of the bigger schools are waiting to see how my up-and-down game is,” said Clark, who has asthma and treats it morning and night and before every workout. “They’re judging my ability to maintain a high motor the whole game. Playing hard for an entire game and not getting winded is the challenge.”
Medlin became aware of Clark when the big kid was a sixth-grader at Clayton Middle School and was on the Clayton Titans travel team with the coach’s son and current Comet guard Dawson Medlin.
“I had a really good relationship with Coach Medlin by my freshman year,” Clark said. “He’s very loyal to me, and I’m loyal to him.
“He loves his players, but he doesn’t sugar-coat anything. He’s honest and upfront. He’s always asking me, ‘Gary, what do you think is best?’ instead of just telling me what to do. He’s the main one I go to for advice about anything.”
Medlin said the best thing about Clark’s development has been his work ethic, both on the court and in the classroom.
“He has realized the importance of having a strong work ethic, and he’s worked harder every year than the year before,” Medlin said. “He’s matured a lot.
“Last year he played inside almost all the time, but he did excel in transition and stepped out on the perimeter some. This year we have more help inside and he’ll step out on the perimeter quite a bit. We’ve got 6-5 Demage Bailey, a real strong kid who’s going to play college football. Bailey is a true center at this level.”
Medlin said with Bailey as an anchor, Clark will have more freedom to fly up and down the floor.
“Gary didn’t take many 3-pointers last year, but he has been working on the perimeter game a lot,” Medlin said. “He has always been allowed to rebound and go, lead the break. And when he’s on the perimeter he takes care of the ball.”
Clark played middle-school football but decided after throwing down a dunk in the first minute of his first basketball game as an eighth-grader that roundball was his best shot. Now so many college recruiters are coming around, he said he’s doing more listening than talking.
“I don’t want to just come off screens and shoot or strictly post up,” said Clark, who said he anticipates a business major in college. “A coach asks me where I see myself playing and I say, ‘Coach, can you tell me where you see me playing?’ And that lets me know a lot about whether that program is for me. I just know I have to keep working hard and get better at every part of my game.”
And if that happens, it should be good both for Clark as an individual and the Comets as a team.
“I see us going really deep into the state championships,” said Clark, the Comets’ only returning starter other than senior guard Anthony Gaskins. “But to get there we know we have to play hard every night, because we’ve got about four teams in our conference that have a lot of seniors coming back who know how to win.”