In the last few days, Gary Clark has won a lot of awards. He was named an all-American Athletic Conference first-team member on Monday. Then he received the AAC Defensive Player of the Year and conference sportsmanship award on Tuesday. Today, he received the greatest honor a player in the AAC can achieve, as he was rightfully named the league’s player of the year.
Since the Cincinnati Bearcats still have business to attend to before Clark rides off into the sunset, there will be plenty of time for glowing retrospectives later, but let this article serve as a resource for why Clark not only won these awards but deserved them more than someone outside of UC country might know.
The easiest one to back up is his defensive player of the year honor. Aside from playing for the second-best defensive team in the country (according to KenPom), Clark very much is the UC defense. He leads the AAC in defensive rating (80.6), defensive win shares (3.0) and defensive box plus/minus (8.8). He also ranks fourth in steal and block percentage. Then there’s his work on the boards. He leads the league in defensive rebounding percentage (20.9) and is second in overall rebounding percentage (16.8).
To understand why he was named overall player of the year and to the all-AAC first team, just take all that defensive excellence and pour on some of the most efficient offensive play in the entire country. Clark scored a career-high 12.7 points per game and became a much better all around threat. He expanded his range and made 44.2 percent of his three-point tries while attempting 1.7 per game. That helped him record an effective field goal percentage of 55.7, which is a career-high, and a player efficiency rating (PER) of 29.4. That second number is not only the best mark in the conference, but among the top 10 in the entire country.
Speaking of the entire country, Clark stacks up nicely on the national level as well. He is the Division I leader in defensive rating, defensive win shares and win shares per 40 minutes (.308). That’s right. He’s worth more wins per 40 minutes than DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley and Jalen Brunson.
Finally, we’ve come to the sportsmanship award. Clark is known for being a humble player who doesn’t live for the spotlight, but he still finds a way to make a difference off the court all the same.
Gary Clark is one of the best to ever play for the Bearcats. We (i.e. people who follow the Bearcats) all knew this before this season started. But now the whole country knows it and hopefully, they’ll know it even more as March continues because UC and Clark aren’t finished yet.