By Tyler Urke in Sports
Last year’s 27-2 overall record, undefeated league record and fifth place trophy in the NWAC tournament all hover over this year’s Clark men’s basketball team.
Last year’s team was one of the most skilled teams head coach Alex Kirk said he’s ever been around. Clark shot a blistering 42 percent from the three-point line, an average that would have topped Division I schools.
Not only did the Penguins lose four of their best sophomores, including NWAC West Region MVP Collin Spickerman, but the team returns just one player from last year’s squad.
However, Kirk said he felt like there was always something holding last year’s team back from being great.
“We could play the top team and play them even, and we could play the bottom team in our league and play them even,” Kirk said. “We didn’t have that strong culture and toughness to be able to grind it out no matter who we were playing.”
Already, Kirk believes that three of his post players this year could provide that toughness he’s been searching for. They are 6-foot-7 Antony Dunn, 6-foot-9 Orlando “Tre” Vance and 6-foot-10 Miles Martin.
“There’s not a guy in that bunch like Collin [Spickerman] that’s gonna block shots but they’re really, really physical,” Kirk said.
Lewis and Clark, a Division II team, scrimmaged Clark on Nov. 8. This is common for schools to evaluate their recruits.
Dinari Foreman has been the head coach at Lewis and Clark since 2011 and has seen about 20 NWAC teams play. He was impressed by what he saw from the Penguins squad.
“I’d say if they’re not top three [in the NWAC] then the NWAC is the strongest conference on the west coast,” he said.
“I’m excited about what we have,” Kirk said. “This is the closest to the ideal roster I would want.”
At this point in the season, staying positive can be difficult for players when coaches are nagging about what they need to improve on according to Kirk.
“Every year at this time I think we’re going to lose every single game,” Kirk said.
Kirk’s record as head coach of the Penguins is 41-13.
Kirk also said the locker room chemistry is the best he’s had in his three years at Clark.
“As far as attitudes and egos, it’s been perfect,” said sophomore point guard Evan Garrison. “I’ve been through a lot of schools that have had a lot of locker room problems and this team is really close.”
Garrison played at Division II Point Loma University last year where he averaged 12.2 minutes a game off the bench. He is projected to be the starting point guard.
Garrison said the team is selfless and guys that might not be getting minutes don’t complain. “When we watch film, we can’t watch it with the sound on because our bench is so loud that it’s almost annoying,” he said.
Kirk said he knows that being undefeated in league play last year means that teams in the South Region have their eye on revenge against Clark.
“With us sweeping everybody last year in conference that target on our back is pretty big.”