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May 10, 2006

Interest intensifies for Rotnei Clarke

After leading the state of Oklahoma in scoring as a sophomore with a 34.2 points-per-game average, Rotnei Clarke, a 6-foot and 170-pound guard from Verdigris High School in Claremore, Oklahoma, was receiving interest from schools across the country, including state programs Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Oral Roberts and Oklahoma.

However, after three outstanding AAU tournaments this spring, according to Clarke's uncle and Verdigris Head Coach Kelly Clarke, he has drawn the interest of traditional powerhouses such as Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and Michigan State.

"The list of schools that have taken an interest in Rotnei are Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Florida, Kentucky, Florida State, Missouri State, Texas A&M, Washington State, Duke, North Carolina, Tulsa, ORU, SMU, Michigan, Michigan State, Marquette and others," Coach Clarke stated. "Three head coachers have been to one of our practices to watch him play. Those are Doug Wojcik of Tulsa, Stan Heath of Arkansas and Barry Hinson of Missouri State."

"Duke just called the other day. Billy Clyde (Gillespie of Texas A&M) watched him in Houston (Kingwood Classic) and Dallas (Next Level). Tubby (Smith of Kentucky) watched him in Dallas, and Billy Donavan (of Florida) saw him in Houston. Florida and Kentucky have turned up the heat since watching him."

In addition to the Kingwood Classic and the Next Level, Clarke began the spring playing with Wes Grandstaff's Team Texas squad in the Boo Williams Invitational in Hampton, Virginia. Clarke got the attention of coaches in his first contest, as he tallied 25 points, including five three-pointers in the first half.

As a freshman and sophomore, some coaches and analysts thought that Clarke might be too small to play the shooting guard in college and might not have the quickness to play the point. However, Coach Clarke doesn't think size is or will be a problem for Rotnei.

"Rotnei's grown three inches and put on 25-pounds just since last year," explained Coach Clarke. "He's even gained eight pounds in the last three weeks, because he's been hitting the weights hard. Some people list him at 5-foot-10 or 5-foot-11, but he's a legitimate 6-foot and weighs 170-pounds."

"We all think he's going to be at least 6-foot-2 and maybe up to 6-foot-4 before he finishes growing. His family on his mother's side matured late. He has an uncle who is 6-foot-5 and played tight end for Nebraska. He has a couple of cousins who are in the 6-foot-4 range."

"His mother is very athletic and was an All-American in volleyball in college," Coach Clarke added. "His father is around 6-foot-3 and played basketball at Tarkio College in Missouri. Rotnei does need to improve his foot speed, but he will. He has range to 25-feet, and that's pretty much a rarity these days. I don't think he'll have a problem playing the shooting guard position in college. Plus, he hasn't had any problems going against some of the top guards in the country in AAU play."

Some national recruiting analysts who have seen Clarke play this spring have dubbed him as one of the best shooters in the 2008 class. His statistics as a sophomore in high school support the high praise, as he shot 43-percent from behind the arc, 56-percent overall and 88-percent from the free throw line.

Coach Clarke says Rotnei has all the shots and can score against almost every kind of defense imaginable.

"Rotnei always could shoot, pass and dribble," Coach Clarke continued. "But he's totally different than he was at this time last year. Not only has he grown physically, but he's developed a mid-range game. He can take you off the dribble or come off a screen. He has a quick release, and all he needs is a little bit of room. He also has an ugly looking runner, but it's effective."

"He can handle the ball and has a nice spin move. He's faced all kinds of defenses, including triangle-and-twos, and box-and-ones. But he works so hard. Before he finishes high school, he could become one of the best to come out of Oklahoma."

His hard work is evidenced by a number of shooting drills that Coach Clarke has his nephew performing in practice sessions.

"One of the drills he does is one that Bryce Drew did at Valparaiso. It's a one-ball, one-rebound drill, shooting three-pointers. Drew made 100 threes in six minutes and 55 seconds. Rotnei has made 100 in seven minutes and 45 seconds, and that was after a two hour practice."

"Another drill he does is one I got from Coach Larry Gipson of Northeastern (OK) State University. It's called the 40/80 drill. You try to make 40 three-pointers in 80 shots. Rotnei made 40 out of 45. He also made 69-of-80 using two balls and going game-speed. He wanted to make 69, because Jeremy Case made 68 when I coached him, and Rotnei wanted to beat him."

With continued success this summer on the AAU circuit, Clarke will see his recruitment intensify. However, he's in no hurry to commit. Coach Clarke did indicate that at this time next year, Rotnei could be close to making a decision.

"He's not ready to choose a school at this point," concluded Coach Clarke. "He's going to enjoy the recruiting process for a while. I know every school is looking for a shooter, and Rotnei, like most every kid, is looking to go big-time. But he doesn't want to scare anyone off. I feel that by this time next year he might go ahead and commit to a school."

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