Texas Tech basketball: Chris Clarke doesn’t have to score to make impact

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 14: The Cameron Crazies taunt Chris Clarke #15 of the Virginia Tech Hokies during their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 14, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 74-52. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 14: The Cameron Crazies taunt Chris Clarke #15 of the Virginia Tech Hokies during their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 14, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 74-52. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

One of the Texas Tech basketball team’s two graduate transfers, Chris Clarke doesn’t have to score tons of points to make an impact, but he can.

With over 79% of the scoring from last season’s national runner up squad no longer on top of the Caprock, there was no doubt that Chris Beard would be exploring all options in looking for ways to reinforce his team for another run in 2019-20.  And like last year, he’s brought two graduate transfers into the Texas Tech basketball program.

But while forward T.J. Holyfield leads this team in scoring after two games with a 17.5 point per game average, Beard’s other grad transfer, Chris Clarke, is impacting his team in different ways.

Clarke is a Swiss Army knife for this team as he can do anything the game calls for.  Though we most commonly judge basketball players on their scoring, to understand what Clarke may mean to this team, we have to look at what else he’s bringing to the court.

It’s not that the 6-foot-6 Clarke isn’t a capable scorer.  He averaged 11.4 points per game at Virginia Tech in 2016-17 before a knee injury ended his season after 24 games.

But so far, his team hasn’t really needed him to put the ball in the basket.  Of course, that could change as the competition improves but for now, he’s finding other ways to help the Red Raiders win.

In the opener, Clarke had a team-high 8 assists.  That was almost 1/3 of Tech’s team total of 25 assists against Eastern Illinois.

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Stop for a moment and consider just how important having a facilitator of that caliber has to be for this young team.  The only two returners on this year’s squad, Davide Moretti and Kyler Edwards, averaged just 3.5 assists per game combined a year ago.  What’s more, Beard saw three of his top four assist men, Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney, and Brandone Francis, all depart the program taking with them 8.4 assists per night, well over half of Tech’s 13.4 assists per game average as a team.

With a roster featuring seven freshmen, at times this team is going to struggle to find good looks at the basket, especially early in the year as young scorers like Jahmi’us Ramsey and Terrence Shannon Jr. learn what it is like to have college coaches gameplan to take away the aspects of their game that high school teams simply didn’t have the athletes to neutralize.

In those times, having a player like Clarke on the court to help keep the ball moving and find open shots for his teammates is going to be a huge asset.  We’ve already seen in his first two games as a Red Raider that he’s a tremendous passer and he’s a crafty ball-handler who knows how to get into the paint and distribute the rock.  When the opposition improves here in another couple of weeks, that will be an invaluable asset for a team that’s going to have to work through some rough patches.

In the second game of the season on Saturday night, Clarke had three of Tech’s 22 assists but it was his rebounding that was noticeable.  Pulling down eight boards, seven on the defensive end of the floor, Clarke utilized his grown-man strength to help his team have an advantage of 14 rebounds over Bethune-Cookman.

Clarke’s total was only one shy of the team lead, which was the nine boards pulled down by Ramsey.  Again, stop and think about what we are learning about this team.

Remember that this roster does not have a 6-foot-11 Tariq Owens to clean up on the glass (or block shots) nor does it have a 6-foot-8, 250-pound bull inside to knock people around like it did last year with Norense Odiase.

The starting lineup Tech has used in both games thus far has featured the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Holyfield as the team’s tallest and biggest starter.  What’s more, the only player on the roster over 6-foot-8 is super raw true freshman Russell Tchewa, who is 7-feet and 254-pounds.

Thus, if this team is going to have any hope of competing on the glass, the guards and wings are going to have to carry a huge part of that burden.  Though this team may not have ideal size in the post, it should have a size, length, and athleticism advantage in the backcourt and on the wings.

Clarke (6-foot-6, 220-pounds), Ramsey (6-foot-4, 195-pounds), Terrence Shannon (6-foot-6, 210-pounds), Kevin McCullar (6-foot-6, 195-pounds), and transfer Joel Ntambwe (6-foot-8, 220-pounds and who is waiting to be cleared by the NCAA) all should give this team a chance to compete on the boards by overwhelming other guards and small forwards with their length and leaping ability.

In the world of positionless basketball, which is where the modern game is headed and which is what Chris Beard is trying to make his roster into, rebounding will be a team effort more than we’ve ever known it to be.   For instance, Bethune-Cookman came to town with Cletrell Pope coming off a 22-rebound game and outside of the eight boards he grabbed on Saturday night against Tech, the Wildcats managed to grab just 24 more.

Most fans assumed that Chris Clarke was going to be a scorer for this team given that he’s averaged over nine points per game as a collegiate.  But that doesn’t seem to be his priority nor what Beard is asking of him.

"“He’s doing a great job of letting the game come to him,” Beard said following Saturday’s win. “To me, he plays like a pro out there.  He’s not chasing baskets or stats, he’s just playing.  He’s been a calming influence and he’s getting a lot of people involved.  Not to put a lot of pressure on him but…I think he’s got a chance to be one of the best passers I’ve ever coached.”"

As we move forward, watch how Clarke impacts games in ways that most might not notice.  With career averages of 6.5 rebounds and 3 assists per game, he’s shown an ability to be the type of player that good teams crave, one who can make his teammates better by doing the dirty work.

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There is plenty of athleticism on this team and thus far, there’s been more than enough scoring.  That could change and at points, Clarke will have to create more offense for himself.  But make no mistake, even though he’s averaging just two points per game thus far, he’s still making an impact.  We may just have to look a little closer to see it.