CLAYTON — Tammy Clark was the first to know her son, Clayton High basketball forward Gary Clark, was going to continue his basketball career at Cincinnati. She knew a day before her talented son did. Chalk it up to a mother’s instinct.
Clark announced Wednesday he will be a Bearcat next fall in front of friends, teammates and supporters on Jerry Smith Court at Clayton High. Fitting, since the court is where he’s spent the past three seasons developing a game that drew more than a dozen Division I scholarship offers, including a half dozen from ACC schools (N.C. State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami, Maryland and Pittsburgh).
A 6-foot-7, 215-pound hybrid forward, Clark made his official visit to Cincinnati on Sept. 13-15 with his mother. Both said they knew a decision had been made before flying home.
“I knew Sunday before we left; I just feel it,” Tammy Clark said. “I just had to let him tell me when he was ready.”
Gary Clark shared that decision with her a day later.
The bond Clark developed with Cincinnati associate head coach Larry Davis played a key role in his decision. Davis is a former assistant coach at Wake Forest (1989-93) and led the recruiting effort to bring future All-American and two-time NBA MVP Tim Duncan to Winston-Salem.
Cincinnati, a former Big East member, plays in the American Athletic Conference, which will include East Carolina in the future.
“From the beginning, coach Davis was there talking to me,” Clark said. “And when I got to Cincinnati and saw what they had to offer, met with coach (Mick) Cronin, it just all felt so right to me.”
Clark’s prospects rose in the eyes of many this summer with his performances for the CP3 All-Stars during the Peach Jam in South Carolina and other tournaments. He was offered scholarships by N.C. State and Maryland in July.
He led Clayton to the 4A Eastern Regional semifinals as a junior. He averaged 24 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots, earning all-state and Greater Neuse River 4A Conference Player of the Year honors. Clark averaged nearly 32 points in the playoffs.
Having grown up in ACC country, he realizes leaving those scholarship offers on the table might surprise some observers, but he’s confident he made the right decision.
“Gary showed what he’s capable of on any level this summer playing with the CP3 All-Stars,” said Clayton coach Denny Medlin. “But Gary’s a guy about relationships and from the beginning, coach Davis struck a cord with him. The first time he saw Gary play, he told Gary that he had to play harder. Gary didn’t like that at first but he realized coach Davis was right. He started to play harder and that made us a better team and him a better player.”
Clark said Cincinnati’s style of play also heavily influenced his decision.
“They use a stretch 4 (a power forward who can also play on the perimeter) and that really fits me well,” he said. “Because I can bang on the inside and rebound, and I will get the opportunity to showcase my skills on the perimeter. I just feel like I’ll be able to show a lot of my game at Cincinnati.”
Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest