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Gary Clark: An Appreciation

For four years the Cincinnati Bearcats had The Problem. It was a problem any team would love to have and one that is tough to see go.

Tulsa v Cincinnati Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Career Numbers

  • 10.5 points per game
  • 8.1 rebounds
  • 1.3 blocks
  • 2.0 assists
  • 1.2 steals
  • .525/.383/.698

Writing these appreciation posts is always a bit of a bittersweet exercise. Reliving the careers of any Cincinnati Bearcat generally comes with plenty of fond memories mixed with sadness that their time at UC is over. Writing the appreciation of Gary Clark is one of the most difficult ones I’ve had to write in the time I’ve been doing this. Maybe that’s why it took me until June to finally do it. That’s because Clark wasn’t just a good basketball player, he was one of those guys that will be remembered fondly for generations of Bearcats for everything he did on and off the court.

We’re going to focus on the on-court stuff to start, though. Clark was a heralded recruit, earning four-star status from a number of outlets and being named a top 100 prospect by both ESPN and Rivals. With Clark’s decorated resume in front of him, Mick Cronin had no choice but to insert him into the starting lineup from day one. During the course of his four seasons with the Bearcats, Clark played in 139 games, starting in 137 of those. That included 34 starts in 34 games as a freshman when all he did was grab rebounds (7.2 per game), block shots (1.3 per game) and score the occasional basket (7.8 per game).

During that first year, Clark was teamed up with a fairly solid squad and he was able to learn from Octavius Ellis, a 6’10” forward who was equal parts dominant rebounder and devastating defender. It didn’t take long for Clark to become the lead guy in the frontcourt, however, as in just his sophomore season he led the Bearcats in rebounds (8.8 per game) while scoring 10.4 points per game and averaging 1.5 blocks each time he stepped on the floor. A guy that was committed to Cronin’s defensive vision from the start, Clark was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year that season, as he posted a defensive rating of 91 and created turnovers and turned away shots with regularity.

While the defense was great that season, his offensive development shouldn’t be ignored. He added a three-point shot to his arsenal, making nearly one triple per game and netting 52 percent from such a distance. He also improved on the glass, setting a career-high in rebounds per game, all while the Bearcats went 22-11 overall, 12-6 in league play and once again made it to the NCAA Tournament.

Clark lost some of the spotlight as a junior, what with the ascendancy of Jacob Evans and the introduction of Kyle Washington, but that didn’t mean he was any less vital to UC’s efforts. His scoring increased slightly (10.8 points per game), while his work on the glass did falter some, but he still managed to post a then career-high offensive rating of 126.9, which offset a slight dip in his defensive work. Even with these perceived regressions, which were really more a product of the improved depth of talent around him, Clark accounted for 5.8 win shares as a junior, which was then a career-high. The personal accolades were not there at the end of the campaign like the year before, but UC was a better team overall (30-6) and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, giving Clark his first taste of success in the Big Dance. Based on what we’ve seen from him the last four years, that team success was worth 10 defensive player of the year awards.

Entering his senior season, Clark was ready to do it all and he did, finishing off easily the best season of his career by winning AAC Player of the Year honors and leading UC to both regular season and tournament titles. A sometimes hesitant offensive threat, Clark was much more assertive, scoring a career-high 12.9 points per game while taking shots from all over the floor. He improved mightily from beyond the arc and at the free throw line, adding even more depth to his offensive game to help account for a team-high 135.3 offensive rating.

Offense was and is more of an ancillary part of Clark’s game, however. On the boards and defense, were he expends most of his talents, he was better than ever. He had 3.5 defensive win shares and a defensive rating of 81.6, while setting a career-high in steal percentage (3.0) and recording his third season with a block percentage of at least five.

But Clark wasn’t just the best player on the Bearcats or in the AAC. He also was one of the best players in the country. He was the national leader in defensive rating and defensive win shares this past season and the only player in the country to rank among the top 10 in offensive and defensive rating.

Taking a look at his body of work as a whole, Clark had an incredibly productive career and one that will grace the record books at UC for the long term. He is one of three players to record 1,400 points and 1,100 rebounds and is a top five player in program history in rebounds and blocks. Nobody in the Mick Cronin era has had as many double-doubles (32) and it doesn’t hurt that he was around for one of the most successful two-year stretches in program history.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Best of the Best

Nov. 25, 2015 vs. North Carolina Central

Clark was fine in his first few games at UC, but this one, his fourth in the uniform, was the game that cemented him as a star in the making. Not only did he have a solid 12 points and eight rebounds, but he blocked four shots as well.

Nov. 29, 2014 vs. Ole Miss

In the first of 32 career double-doubles, Clark secured 12 rebounds to match his point total.

Jan. 6, 2015 vs. East Carolina

I hope the Pirates weren’t hoping to contain Clark because he was everywhere in this game. He only scored eight points, but he added 16 rebounds, four blocks and four steals to make life a living nightmare for his opponents.

Jan. 29, 2015 vs. UConn

This was back when UConn was UC’s biggest rival in the conference and Clark showed no fear, scoring 12 points to go with 10 rebounds and four steals.

Feb. 21, 2015 at Houston

In 31 minutes, Clark ripped down 14 rebounds and scored 11 points as UC began a five-game winning streak.

Nov. 13, 2015 vs. Western Carolina

Were we seeing a new Gary Clark? After his strong freshman campaign, Clark was a scoring machine in the season opener, making 9-of-10 from the floor to finish with a a then career-high 21 points.

Dec. 6, 2015 vs. Morgan State

Its tough to ask for any more than what Clark provided in this easy win. He had 13 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and even managed five assists.

Dec. 15, 2015 vs. Norfolk State

This was a scoring game for Clark, who finished with 19 points following a game against Xavier when he was held scoreless.

Dec. 19, 2015 at VCU

After coming up short in a big game against the Musketeers, Clark was on pont in this one, grabbing nine rebounds and scoring 13 points by willing himself to the free throw line (7-of-8).

Jan 2, 2016 vs. Tulsa

Seven points may seem like a disappointment, but its tough to complain when your team wins and the guy who had seven points had twice as many rebounds.

Jan. 7, 2016 at SMU

Just a few days later, Clark put 13 points on the scoreboard and also had more than 10 rebounds. On top of that, he was a pest on defense, ripping away five steals.

Jan. 16, 2016 at Temple

While the Bearcats lost this game, you can’t put that at Clark’s feet since he had a 12-point, 14-rebound double-double.

Feb. 4, 2016 vs. USF

Oh, you know, just your typical 16-point, 13-rebound double-double with four assists.

Feb. 6, 2016 at Memphis

Followed two days later with 15 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.

Feb. 13, 2016 vs. East Carolina

Then, a week later, how does 15 points, 12 rebound and four dimes sound?

Feb. 20, 2016 vs. UConn

While they would get revenge later, the Huskies couldn’t stop Clark in this one, as he had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Dec. 1, 2016 at Iowa State

When UC knocked off Iowa State in overtime, Clark was a major contributor, scoring 11 points to go with 10 rebounds and three blocks.

Dec. 10, 2016 at Butler

The success was lost in the win column against Butler, but Clark gave it his best, scoring 14 points and bringing in 12 rebounds.

Dec. 22, 2016 vs. Marshall

This surprisingly tough game would have ended much more poorly if Clark didn’t have 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting.

Jan. 26, 2017 vs. Xavier

This was Clark’s best Crosstown Shootout. Not only did UC win, but Clark had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Feb. 4, 2017 vs. UConn

The Huskies had to be tired of Clark at this point, a he put together 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Feb. 15, 2017 vs. USF

The Bulls weren’t big fans either, especially after taking 13 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks on the chin.

March 5, 2017 at UConn

Clark continued his revenge tour against the Huskies, with 17 points and 14 rebounds.

March 11, 2017 vs. UConn

The Huskies couldn't even escape in the conference tournament, with Clark posting 25 points.

Nov. 20, 2017 vs. Buffalo

Clark already produced a double-double in the season opener, but this one was much better, featuring 24 points and 12 rebounds.

Dec. 9, 2017 vs. Florida

UC might have lost, but Clark hung with the nationally-ranked Gators, with 13 boards (eight offensive) and nine points on 4-of-8 shooting.

Dec. 16, 2017 at UCLA

After losing to the Bruins the previous March in the NCAA Tournament, the Bearcats took some revenge with help from Clark (10 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks).

Jan. 16, 2018 at UCF

UC only scored 49 points in this grueling win. Clark scored 17 of those points and added 15 of the team’s 30 rebounds.

Jan. 20, 2018 vs. East Carolina

Four days later he tallied 14 points and as many rebounds. Oh and this incredible chase down block.

Jan. 24, 2018 vs. Temple

In only 26 minutes he tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds. Two of those points here pretty fantastic.

March 9, 2018 vs. SMU

This began a majestic run in the AAC tourney for Clark and the Bearcats. He had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the first game against SMU.

March 10, 2018 vs. Memphis

In the semifinals, he tallied 17 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and three steals.

March 11, 2018 vs. Houston

In a one-point victory that brought UC a conference championship, Clark had 20 points and 12 rebounds.

March 16, 2018 vs. Georgia State

This wasn’t the best game of his career by any means, but the Bearcats won in the NCAA Tournament and Clark finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds. He would add 11 points and 10 rebounds in the next round against Nevada, ending his career with five-straight double-doubles.

A Final Goodbye

Its difficult to come to terms with the fact that Clark will no longer be putting on a UC uniform. That means no more double-doubles, block shot parties or “Gary Clark is a problem” tweets. Next season there will be a major absence on the floor no matter how well the young guys behind him the last few years develop. Clark was a guy who gave it everything he had on the floor and there was a lot for him to give. Take the following play.

I wrote at the time that this play summed up Clark. Even when he was knocked down, he still got back up and fought and did so with devastating defensive might. Clark may not have scored like Sean Kilpatrick, won national awards like Kenyon Martin, recorded triple-doubles like Oscar Robertson or won national titles like Paul Hogue, but he belongs in that rarefied air. He is a Cincinnati Bearcat legend and he always will be.