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Returning Player Refresher: Gary Clark

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Connecticut's Daniel Hamilton may have won the conference's rookie of the year award last season, but Clark had a legitimate argument as well. Now, as a sophomore, expectations couldn't be higher.

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There was never really a question of whether Gary Clark was going to be good. He dominated in high school in Clayton, North Carolina, was a four-star recruit and heralded as a top 100 recruit in the country by ESPN and Rivals. While every recruit that gets accolades such as those does not always pan out, Clark never gave anyone a chance to second-guess him. He came out of the gates ready to play and play he did, starting all 34 games as a freshman, recording at least 20 minutes in all but two contests.

Some might question playing a freshman that heavily, although perhaps less so in the new college basketball environment, but the move payed off handsomely for Mick Cronin. Clark was a monster on the boards and around the rim on both ends. He is reminiscent of a former Bearcat by the name of Justin Jackson, and for those who follow me on Twitter dot com, you know I don't say that lightly. Just watch these highlights and tell me I'm wrong.

It would be difficult to pinpoint the best part of Clark's game but if forced to, most would say his ability to rebound. The 6-foot-8 freshman pulled in 246 total boards last season, the most on the team. He also averaged 7.2 boards per game and had a team-high in rebounding percentage (16.3). His work was not limited to the defensive end, however. Any guy standing 6-foot-8 can just walk into seven rebounds a game. Clark aggressively cleaned the glass all last season, constantly attacking the boards and making sure to get himself in good position. He did it on the offensive end in particular, ranking second in the American Athletic Conference with 94 offensive rebounds and first in the league in offensive rebound percentage (13.4).

Another area of Clark's game that was exceptional was his work as a shot blocker. While he was not as proficient as Octavius Ellis (more to come on him down the road), Clark swatted 45 shots back and averaged 1.3 blocks per game. His blocks were not limited to layups by smaller players either. Clark consistently flourished as a defender away from the paint, misdirecting jumpshots that would normally go unscathed. His willingness to work his mark on the wings blended with his natural athletic gifts and quick hands to lead to a number of steals. It is not often that a 6-foot-8 forward runs the fast break at the college level, but Clark did that plenty of times. He had a knack for cutting in front of lazy passes away from the basket and taking the ball all the way to the rim for a bucket.

Now, as far as his offensive game, Clark had his bright moments. He didn't try to take shots he couldn't make and was a relatively reliant knockdown shooter from the short and mid-ranges. He knocked down 52.4 percent of his total field goal tries, including a 53.7 percent success rate on two-point shots, the eighth-best mark in the conference. However, his form is still a bit stiff and his release is not all that quick, meaning if a defender is right on him, he is less likely to shoot from a longer distance. That is just fine, as he developed some stronger post moves and was able to finish in clogged lanes plenty of times. It also helps that Clark was not the No. 1 option and he won't be again this season, what with Ellis and Troy Caupain still in the mix.

Of course, after such a strong rookie campaign, expectations are high for Clark. More of the same will be passable, but a step forward should be in the works. Clark has the tools to be a double-double a night guy and he could be blocking even more shots now that he has had a year to get comfortable at the college level. In addition, another year under his belt should help him be more confident on the offensive end, while some bulking up could get him better looks. In all, Clark is one of the most exciting players for the Bearcats and fans should be salivating at what the next step will be for him.