MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
GULFPORT — Michael Clark strings together important night-in and night-out numbers in every statistic that is kept, soaring through the climate-controlled air of various arenas and rebounding with flat-out abandon that can draw in the crowd.
The junior leads Boca Ciega in scoring with a 13-point average.
The box scores indicate Clark, in his second year with the Pirates, is making an impact. But statistics fail to properly define his value, and there is no clever formula or high-tech abacus sophisticated enough to capture it.
It is better simply to watch Clark on any possession — a video highlight being worth a thousand statistics.
“Michael is definitely a go-to guy that can do so many things for us,” coach Randy Shuman said.
Clark’s ascension — from a player trying to fit in to a new system to indispensable member of the team — has been one of the biggest highlights of what already has been a memorable start to the season.
A year ago, Clark transferred from Tampa Catholic and was still figuring out the type of player the Pirates wanted him to be. With the Crusaders, he was strictly planted beneath the basket. Shuman wanted him to work on his outside game to complement the things he already did well inside.
“It was tough last year,” Clark said. “I just kind of had to jump right in and learn everything new with no real offseason with the team. I had to learn to play a different way and now I’m playing more freely.”
Clark has developed his entire package of talents. He is tall enough (6-foot-6) and jumps high enough to move inside.
What do you want to do?
Guard him high, he will take you low.
Guard him low, he will take you high.
Don’t guard him for a moment? He is gone, rising over the basket and depositing the ball with efficiency.
As the Pirates have sailed along this regular season with a 6-0 record, Clark has been a tough matchup. There are stellar guards all around with Dallas Moore, DJ White and Joe Lampley. Then there is Clark. How can any defense fully concentrate in any direction?
In fact, Clark now sings almost as many lead vocals as the headliners. He has scored a team-high 25 in each of the past two games.
And he is only getting better.
“We’re still working on getting his motor going each and every night,” Shuman said. “I think he’s only reached about 75 percent of his potential. He has everything skill-wise and can jump out of the gym.
“He can score 30-40 points every night and just take over games. But he’s so reserved that it’s not a natural feeling for him to do that.”
In fact, it really takes extra motivation to get Clark into a dominating mode.
“It’s hard for me to get into that mind frame where I can control a game,” Clark said. “Sometimes I have to get really mad and my teammates will do stuff to irritate me on purpose just to get me fired up, like hitting me or something in the locker room before the game.”
He can score in traffic and through contact, and his value extends beyond his ability to pile up points.
“Michael has really come on this season,” Moore said. “He can rebound and create things on his own. He also helps us get more open and gets everyone involved in the offense. We’re all working well together and that’s a big reason we’re off to such a good start.”