Smithfield: Sports

Freshman and Clayton native Gary Clark is already turning heads at Cincinnatti

Clayton’s Gary Clark (11) heads down court after one of his defensive rebounds and Durham Hillside’s Malik Evans (4) can only watch during the first round of last year’s state 4A playoffs.
Clayton’s Gary Clark (11) heads down court after one of his defensive rebounds and Durham Hillside’s Malik Evans (4) can only watch during the first round of last year’s state 4A playoffs. newsobserver.com

Gary Clark may never again consistently dominate basketball games the way he did at Clayton High. But he seems to be positioned to make a big splash in the American Conference as a freshman.

The new Cincinnati Bearcat, who turned down offers from at least 10 other schools to head to Southern Ohio, has a solid chance to start at the beginning of the season.

“There’s an old saying that great players make the game look easy because they keep it simple,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said of Clark. “He does a great job of that. He keeps it simple and gets the ball in the basket. A lot of young players tend to complicate the game. He is advanced for his age.”

Clark, a 6-foot-7, 233-pound forward, was already on the national radar as a high school freshman, a mobile inside post player who could run the ball upcourt and hit his free throws in between spectacular dunks and blocked shots. He was unavailable for an interview for this story, as Cincinnati does not allow media to speak with its true freshmen until their second semester.

He was Clayton’s all-time leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, averaging 26 points with seven rebounds and four assists as a senior and 24 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks as a junior.

The two-time Greater Neuse River 4A Conference player of the year is the only North Carolina high schooler to record a quadruple-double in a game (22 points, 21 rebounds, 15 blocked shots and 10 assists against West Johnston in his senior season).

Cincinnati assistant coach Larry Davis said Clark definitely has a chance for a starting spot when the Bearcats open the season Nov. 14 against St. Francis (Pa.)

“Guys earn their spots every day in practice,” said Davis, who was Clark’s primary recruiter for the Bearcats. “He certainly wants it. To this point he has certainly put himself in the mix to be the starter as a freshman. The next week or so will determine who gets it.

“He’s a kid that I thought was really versatile and can do a lot of things. He can score the ball. He gets the ball in the basket and can do that in a variety of ways. He can shoot from 15. He can dribble-drive it. And he can score in the post.”

And Clark has dominated things in practice, Davis said.

“He’s an incredible shot-blocker and rebounder for his size,” Davis said. “He’s got a knack for blocking shots. And he gets every rebound in practice now.

“For us he won’t face a double-team every time he touches the ball right off, and he’s going to cause some problems for teams. He’s talented and there isn’t much he can’t do. If you don’t block him out he’s going to get every rebound.”

Clayton coach Denny Medlin said Clark has stayed in touch.

“When he came home after they went to the Bahamas he stayed here at the house a couple of nights,” Medlin said. “The last time I talked to him he spent a lot of time talking about Clayton’s upcoming season and who we’ve got coming back and the kind of style we ought to play.”

The Comets have mainly revolved around Clark for the past four seasons and now face a shift after losing the four-star recruit to the college ranks.

And if or when Clark breaks out at the college level, Medlin doesn’t think you’ll be able to tell it by the Clayton graduate’s approach to the game or his future.

“He’s really quiet and is a unique guy when it comes to absorbing information,” Medlin said. “He’s a listener who thinks about what he hears, and he’s good at analyzing things.”

Cincinnati, picked to finish fourth in the American Athletic Conference by the league’s coaches last week, will play twice in North Carolina this season, visiting N.C. State on Dec. 30 and AAC rival East Carolina on Feb. 1.

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