/Gonzagas Brandon Clarke ready to put hard work to test

Gonzagas Brandon Clarke ready to put hard work to test

Clarke managed all that with a combination of physical gifts and mindset. With a 6-foot-10 wingspan and leaping ability — at the NBA’s Chicago Combine, he finished tied for third with a standing vertical of 34.00 inches and tied for fourth with a max vert of 40.50 inches — Clarke is a fearsome shot blocker. A “reconsider” is not an official statistic, but there’s no telling how many victims of one of Clarke’s rejections turned down other shots for fear of suffering the same, embarrassing fate.

“I’ve always had great timing,” Clarke says by way of explaining his prowess as a rim protector. “I have a really quick jump. It was something I was good at least year. And this year, I got even better at it.”

Offensively, Clarke was a dunking machine and low-post operator who, per KenPom.com, made a staggering 70 percent of his two-point shots, ninth among all Division I players. For that success ratio he credits an understanding of the game and his own abilities, as well as his new teammates in Spokane.

“A lot of it is basketball IQ,” says the native Canadian who played his high school ball in Arizona before signing with San Jose State. “I’ve always been somebody that didn’t like forcing up bad shots. This year, I was really good at making the shots I was taking. And I had teammates who made it so the floor was spaced and I could operate inside more. And playing with good passers made it that much easier.”

It’s the job of NBA scouts and draft analysts to pick apart a player’s game and define their weaknesses. Though Clarke has been forecast as a mid first-round pick and even a lottery selection by some, everyone points to his tweener size and his lack of a consistent jump shot. But those people weren’t at Gonzaga practices every day.

“He has developed himself,” Few said during the NCAA tournament. “He’s done a great job from the time he decided to transfer — before he got up to Gonzaga — because the clips that I watched him when he was at San Jose State when my assistant Brian Michaelson brought him to me, he said, ‘Coach, he’s athletic. He has a knack for making stuff happen around the rim, but this shot is broken, and it cannot be fixed.’

“By the time he got to Gonzaga I was like, ‘I don’t know about that. I think it may be okay.’ And he worked extremely hard on it. Brandon did and the staff did, and now it’s to the point where he can shoot the ball out at the 3.”

Brandon Clarke averaged 3.1 blocks per game last season, which was third best in the nation.

Clarke’s junior year 3-point stats were meager — 4-for-15 for 26.7 percent — but are no longer relevant. He’s spent every day since Gonzaga’s season ended working on his jump shot and his ball handling. Clarke thinks he can guard all three frontcourt positions in the NBA, but he wants to be able to play them, too. And if a team wants to use him at the three, he knows he has to keep defenses honest by being a 3-point threat or able to score off the bounce.

That was already evident to Texas Tech coach Chris Beard before his team, the eventual nation runner-up, tangled with Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.

“I think to say he’s just an athlete is incorrect,” Beard said. “He does a lot of things on both ends of the floor.”

Clarke’s work in the gym has begun to pay dividends.

“I’ve been shooting it really well from the NBA 3 line,” he says. “And now I feel like I can make every midrange shot I take. I’m looking forward to having these shots become better weapons for me.”

Clarke was also third among Gonzaga players in assists, averaging nearly two a game, and third in steals. He envisions an NBA role similar to that of the player he’d most like to emulate and studies often on film — Golden State’s Draymond Green.

“He isn’t a guy that likes to force up shots,” Clarke says. “And he’s a really good passer. That’s the kind of stuff I can do.”

Clarke doesn’t care where he’s taken in the draft, preferring only to go to a team where he fits the system. Since transferring to Gonzaga and hitting the fast-forward button on his NBA dreams, Clarke has just enjoyed the journey.

“I had a really fun year,” he says. “The only thing I’d have changed was us going farther in the NCAA tournament. But it was a great season, and we did so much as a team. I really couldn’t see it having gone any better for me.”

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Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. You can email him here, follow him on Twitter and listen to the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Hour.

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