September 10, 2010

Sooners need instant impact from Clark

Oklahoma's hope for a fresh start could depend heavily on a fresh face.

As the jewel of Oklahoma's recruiting class, swingman Cameron Clark needs to make an immediate impact as the Sooners attempt to rebound from their first losing season since 1980-81.

Clark's combination of athleticism and versatility helped make him the No. 34 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. But when his new coach talks about the freshman's vast potential, he focuses on another attribute: His work ethic.

"He's not afraid of work," Sooners coach Jeff Capel said. "You have some guys who talk about how good they want to be, but they aren't willing to really pay the price. So far, he's been more than willing to work. He's one of the hardest workers we've had."

Clark also isn't afraid of a challenge. He signed with the Sooners in the fall of 2009, when they were coming off an appearance in an NCAA tournament regional final. Clark said he never second-guessed his choice, even as Oklahoma staggered to a 13-18 finish last season.

"It just made me more eager to get here," Clark said. "I just felt like I could help the team in any way possible."

Clark, who is 6 feet 6, can help in plenty of ways. He averaged 23.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists as a senior at Sherman (Texas) High. While many other players specialize in driving to the basket or shooting 3-pointers, Clark is more versatile.

"Cameron's got a nice all-around game," said Jerry Meyer, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "He's sort of your prototypical small forward in that regard. He does a lot of things well. He shoots the ball well in the mid-range area. ... There's a type of small forward - [Illinois recruit] Jereme Richmond is very similar - they can make 3s, but what makes them special is they have that 'in-between' game. They can go inside and rebound, and they can move their feet and guard people in the perimeter."

Clark could play either small forward or shooting guard in college, as Capel says those positions virtually are interchangeable in Oklahoma's offense. Clark spent his high school career filling every position on the floor at one time or another.

The newcomers
Oklahoma returns only one starter, so the Sooners' hopes of bouncing back from a disappointing 2009-10 season rests on the performance of their eight newcomers. Here's a look at each of them.
NamePos.ClassHeightWeight
Abdul Ahmed FFr.6-10207
The buzz: Ahmed, one of 10 children in his family, was born in Wales and moved to London at the age of 2. He averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and 2.4 blocks last season at Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands.
Carl Blair Jr.GSoph.6-2214
The buzz: Blair averaged 9.2 points and 3.7 assists per game for New Orleans last season before deciding to transfer. Because New Orleans is transitioning to the Division III level, Blair is allowed to play for Oklahoma immediately instead of sitting out a season.
Cameron ClarkG/FFr.6-6195
The buzz: Rivals.com rated Clark as the No. 5 small forward and No. 34 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. He averaged 23.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals as a senior at Sherman (Texas) High.
Tyler NealFFr.6-7209
The buzz: Neal was named the Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year last season after averaging 18.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals for Putnam City West in Oklahoma City.
Calvin Newell Jr. GFr.6-0201
The buzz: Newell grew up in the Philadelphia area, but he spent last season at Evelyn Mack Academy in Charlotte, N.C. He averaged 26.1 points and 7.0 assists last season.
T.J. TaylorGFr.6-3217
The buzz: Rivals.com rated Taylor as the No. 104 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. Taylor scored a school-record 2,630 career points at Denison (Texas) High and was a three-time all-state selection. He averaged 23.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists over his four years at Denison.
Nick ThompsonFJr. 6-9212
The buzz: Thompson arrives from the College of Eastern Utah, where he averaged 8.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists last season. He has a reputation for doing the dirty work, and he also can shoot from 3-point range.
C.J. WashingtonFJr. 6-7210
The buzz: Washington was a first-team National Junior College Athletic Association selection last year at Connors State (Okla.). He averaged 19.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
"He's a very unselfish player," said Jeff McCullough, who coached Clark at Sherman High. "He shoots the ball and puts up a lot of points, but at the same time he's an excellent passer. He wants to get everyone involved.

"It's not all about him. The kid wants to win, plain and simple."

Clark's high school experience should pay off in one respect. He already has a long relationship with new teammate T.J. Taylor, a 6-3 guard ranked as the No. 104 prospect in the incoming class.

Taylor and Clark were AAU teammates and high school foes. Taylor played for Denison, which was one of Sherman's heated rivals. Denison and Sherman are about 10 miles apart, in the north central part of the state near the Oklahoma border.

"It was a pretty amazing atmosphere with the level of play on the floor," McCullough said of the Denison-Sherman games. "There were some other all-state basketball players in those games, as well as some Division I football players, but those two guys athletically were above and beyond anybody else on the floor."

Clark said he has known Taylor since the fifth grade. He believes his familiarity with his new teammate will help them make a smooth transition to their new situation.

"He knows my game and I know his game," Clark said. "It's like we have a connection on the court."

That connection could prove valuable for an Oklahoma team going through a transition period. Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin left school after their freshman seasons, making senior guard Cade Davis the Sooners' lone returning starter. Oklahoma's relative lack of experience doesn't bother Clark.

"I feel like this group right here is a good group," Clark said. "We're all focused on hard work, getting better each and every day. We take pride each time we step onto the court to get better every day. This group of guys is just focusing on Oklahoma basketball."

Oklahoma will need that kind of focus as it attempts to return to NCAA tournament contention with a reconstructed roster. The Sooners opened last season 16th in the coaches poll and 17th in The Associated Press poll, yet never managed to live up to that billing as they struggled to replace Blake Griffin, the top overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Oklahoma had numerous chemistry issues and ended the season on a nine-game losing streak.

With four starters gone from that team, a group of eight newcomers will try to help Oklahoma reclaim its status as one of the top Big 12 programs.

Clark is one of five freshmen on the roster. Oklahoma also has brought in New Orleans transfer Carl Blair and junior college transfers Nick Thompson and C.J. Washington. Oklahoma also has added Mississippi State transfer Romero Osby, though he won't be eligible until the 2011-12 season.

"One of the things we've talked about in our program is that we're moving forward," Capel said. "Last year's over with. We can't do anything about it. Cameron and the rest of our freshmen have come in and have worked really hard. They've embraced what we're trying to do and what we're trying to rebuild.

"Just two years ago, we were playing in the Elite Eight and were a top-five team in the country. We struggled last year, but those [freshmen] weren't here last year. Cameron wasn't here. Those guys had nothing to do with that and don't want anything to do with that. They want to come in and create their own identity."

Clark already has established an identity with his willingness to get better. Whether he's in the weight room or on the practice floor, Clark has been working on his game in an effort to contribute as much as possible as a freshman.

"I've never met a person who doesn't want to be successful, but there's a process it takes to become successful," Capel said. "Sometimes people - especially young people - aren't really willing to do those things. Sometimes there's a tendency for a freshman to be caught off-guard or feel they have to wait their turn or have that deer-in-the-headlights look. But you can tell he did work this summer. He's come in and has really embraced the culture we're trying to create."

If everyone on the team follows Clark's approach to the game, Oklahoma could turn things around in a hurry.

"Every time I step on the court, I want to get better," Clark said. "It doesn't matter what I'm doing, I just want to get better each and every day, stay focused on the team and help my teammates get better each and every day."

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.




 

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