ALAN ROBINSON: 'Raging Bill' No More, Clarks's Leadership Drives Dukes' Longest Winning Streak in 40 Years
Feb. 3, 2011
Alan Robinson, who spent the past 28 years covering Pittsburgh sports for The Associated Press, will be contributing to GoDuquesne.com for the remainder of the basketball season. Look for his columns here every Monday and Thursday.
By Alan Robinson
With all due respect to Tu Holloway of Xavier, Andrew Nicholson of St. Bonaventure and Justin Harper of Richmond, Duquesne coach Ron Everhart is certain who should win the Atlantic 10 Conference player of the year award.
The surprise: He's a player who, nearly a year ago, wasn't on the Dukes' roster.
Bill Clark is one of those athletes who truly has come a long way during his college career, and not all of his progress can be measured on a stats sheet or a semester grades report. Perhaps the greatest distance he traveled was in bridging the rift that existed between Clark and Everhart toward the end of Duquesne's disappointing 16-16 season a year ago.
Clark, despite being the second-leading scorer, was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team before the Dukes' loss to Princeton in the CBI in March. He stayed suspended for a couple of weeks until Everhart decided Clark was ready to be a team player again, one willing to shelve his personal priorities and put behind him occasional lapses in judgment and flashes of immaturity.
With Clark already preparing for his senior season, his coach decided it was time for him to grow up. In a statement outlining Clark's suspension, Everhart said, "As a co-captain and upperclassman, Bill has responsibilities and obligations to his teammates. Until he gains a better understanding of those responsibilities and obligations, he will remain suspended."
Now, 11 months later, Everhart says, "He's come a very long way."
Partly because he has, Duquesne has rapidly progressed from being a team that was picked to finish in the Atlantic 10 Conference's second division to one that is in first place by itself going into Saturday's road game at St. Bonaventure (11-10, 3-5 in A-10).
The Dukes are 16-5 overall and 8-0 in the conference following an 84-59 rout of George Washington on Wednesday in which the 6-5 Clark had 23 points despite taking just nine shots, pulled down 10 rebounds and had four assists.
Afterward, an impressed GW coach Karl Hobbs said, "Duquesne is the best team in the Atlantic 10, by far."
Just like Everhart believes the reinvented Clark has been the best player in the conference. Clark averages 17.6 points and 6.5 rebounds and also has 58 assists and 34 steals. He is second in the A-10 in field goal efficiency, which means he gets more points out of fewer shots than all but one player.
No wonder Everhart is getting far more out of this team than anyone predicted a few months ago. Once Clark decided to settle down and shed the image that led him to be nicknamed "Wild Bill" and "Raging Bill" on campus, he and senior teammate Damian Saunders have led the Dukes on an 11-game winning streak - the school's longest in 40 years.
Yes, a long way indeed.
" Words can't even describe how much Bill Clark means to this team," freshman guard T.J. McConnell said. "He and Damian are the reason we go. Without them, I don't feel like we would be having much success this year."
Once Clark was reinstated, he set out not only to show a youthful Duquesne roster what it took to win in the A-10, but to upgrade his own game. Even after raising his scoring average from 8.2 as a freshman in 2007-08 to 12.9 as a sophomore and 14.1 as a junior, Clark felt there were deficiencies.
"When I first got here, I was more of a 3-point shooter, I wasn't really getting to the free throw line, wasn't able to penetrate or make plays," Clark said. "I feel like I'm doing a lot better job of that this year. I feel like I worked really hard in the summer to be able to do that."
A summer filled with running, lifting and shooting - and 18 hours of college courses - is paying off. In only one season, Clark has improved his shooting percentage from a mediocre 41.2 percent to 50.4 percent (113 of 224). His 3-point percentage has jumped from 27.9 percent (46 of 165) to a very respectable 40.8 percent (51 of 125). He's already gotten to the foul line 121 times, compared to 150 all last season, and he's reduced his turnovers from 75 in 2009-10 to 39.
Still, what Clark believes has improved most is his mindset. Previously, he was easily angered or distracted on the court, and opponents knew they could get him off his game by getting him mad. When George Washington tried a similar tactic Wednesday by targeting Clark for overt contact early in the game, he responded not with a show of emotion but with a flurry of points.
Once, Clark was nearly wrestled to the ground by a GW player, only to jump up and, rather than forcing a confrontation, he backpedaled all the way to the opposite foul line. Despite ending the game with a large bump on his forehead that resulted from an elbow, he was not involved in any incidents.
"Last year, I definitely would have retaliated, definitely would have probably picked up a technical, definitely would have fouled out because I would have let my emotions get the best of me," Clark said. "But the refs and my coaches and the other people on my team were just telling me to keep my composure, and I knew that going into the game. I can't let my team down. I've really got to focus and not let people get into my head and just let my game do the talking."
He did. With the fans aware, the officials warned both teams at halftime to calm down following a chippy, roughhouse first half filled with considerable chatter. Clark ended one Dukes possession by hitting a long 3 with the shot clock nearly at :00.
When the ball went in, one fan yelled, "Now he's talking!"
"I've got to learn to keep my composure, let my game do the talking because I don't want to affect my team," Clark said. "I know that some teams are going to come at my team, too, and try to get us riled up because sometimes we can be a little hard-headed. We've just got to stay focused on the game and just keep our composure."
With Clark and Saunders (10 points, seven rebounds, three assists despite playing 34 minutes with the flu) leading the way, Duquesne went on to blow open the game by outscoring the Colonials 41-28 in the second half. When Charlotte upset Xavier 66-62, Duquesne found itself alone in first place in the A-10.
"That's the reason he and Damian are leaders," McConnell said. "They come out there and they keep their composure and they help us keep our composure and, that way, we just go out and play our game."
And Clark is playing the all-around kind of game the Dukes didn't see before this season.
"My coach really emphasized that as far as me getting back on the team," Clark said. "I just wanted to do a better job of being a leader and having everyone on the same page because we have a lot of young people. I feel like I really emphasized that this year, just getting everyone on board and just being the vocal leader I know I can be."
When he's off the 94x50 playing floor, Clark is illustrative of the build-a-citizen aspect of college basketball that often gets overlooked amid the Top 25 rankings, the conference races, March Madness and the big business that Division I athletics has become.
William Clinton Clark Jr. was raised mostly by his mother - Clark says the two are very close - and he saw little of his troubled father while growing up in California. (He later migrated east to play at Worcester Prep in Massachusetts and Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.) Despite those hardships, his athletic ability allowed him to attend college, and he graduated from Duquesne with a degree in corporate communication in less than four years - something few major college athletes do. He's currently taking graduate courses in - fittingly enough - sports leadership.
He might want to hand in a DVD of Wednesday night's game to gain some extra credit.
The challenge now for Clark and his teammates is to keep their edge, their commitment to team basketball and their momentum going into the St. Bonaventure game. While the Dukes have won three of the last four in the regular season series, they dropped two of three to the Bonnies last season, including an 83-71 decision in the A-10 tournament. St. Bonaventure assured itself of home court advantage for that game by beating the Dukes 92-80 on the same court six days before.
The 6-9 Nicholson did much of the damage with 21 points in the regular season game and 25 in the A-10 game. He also has a pair of 29-point games against the Dukes during his career.
Under Everhart, the Dukes won at Olean, N.Y., 111-92 in 2007 and 98-80 in 2009 but lost there 74-59 in 2008.
The rewards for winning this one might be greater than keeping the winning streak going and remaining in the conference lead. The national media is picking up on what the Dukes are doing - Sports Illustrated and USA Today were in town this week - and the Dukes could be poised to move into the Top 25 for the first time in 39 years. But only if they aren't distracted and keep a singular, the team-is-everything attitude.
"We're definitely motivated by it, we want to be put in that position," said B.J. Monteiro, who had 19 points and seven rebounds against GW during his fifth consecutive double-figure scoring game."We've never been ranked in the Top 25. When we see how close we are to getting there, we want to fight every day to get there."