Clarke beginning to put it all together

By: Nate Allen
Published: Saturday, December 21, 2013
Arkansas forward Coty Clarke drives to the hoop against Clemson in the first half of a Dec. 7, 2013 game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas forward Coty Clarke drives to the hoop against Clemson in the first half of a Dec. 7, 2013 game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - In deference to Little Rock natives Alandise Harris and Bobby Portis playing close to home, forward Coty Clarke may not start tonight against South Alabama in the Arkansas Razorbacks’ annual game at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, but if the game remains close look for Clarke to be in at the finish.

The senior co-captain is finally pulling rank up front even as Harris, the 6-6 junior transfer forward formerly of the University of Houston, and 6-10 freshman centers Moses Kingsley and Portis continue to evolve in a big way.

Clarke, a 6-7 junior college transfer, came to Fayetteville during the 2012-2013 season from Lawson State Community College in Bessemer, Ala., which is located near his hometown of Birmingham. Clarke made such an impact that he was selected as a co-captain this season along with returning captain KikkoHaydar, a senior three-year letterman guard.

Last season Mike Anderson, now in his third season coaching the Razorbacks but a former 17-year assistant to Nolan Richardson that encompassed three Final Four teams, compared Clarke in athleticism and solid play to former Arkansas forward Lenzie Howell, who was a key on two Southwest Conference championship teams and the 1990 Final Four team.

After Clarke had 15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots and 1 assist in 19 minutes in a 102-56 victory over Tennessee-Martin on Thursday, Anderson compared Clarke to Dwight Stewart, the inside-outside, hard to guard forward of Arkansas’ 1994 national champion and 1995 national runner-up teams.

Early this season, Clarke definitely didn’t measure up to those accolades. While adjusting to playing with newcomers up front and incorporating into his game the perimeter shooting he worked so hard to improve, Clarke seemed to be a captain adrift from the ship.

“Coty looks like a different player than he did at the beginning of the year,” Anderson said after the Tennessee-Martin game. “For awhile he was playing real small and unathletic. He watched some tape, and now he is saying I have got to play to my strengths.”

Anderson reminded Clarke that he is athletic and strong with a nose for the basketball.

“Coty was one of the better rebounders in junior college,” Anderson said. “We have seen on display the last couple of games that he is going to get the basketball.”

Anderson said Clarke has developed “a nice touch” shooting, but he said his shots must come in the flow of the game.

“I told him that you don’t have to go get your shot,” Anderson said. “If it’s in the open floor, it will take place.”

Clarke’s best place is all over the place, Anderson said.

“The way he’s playing right now he is just everywhere,” Anderson said. “Blocking shots, coming up with loose balls, the blue-collar plays, the glue things that really tie a team together and make you pretty darned good.”

Sports, Pages 20 on 12/21/2013