Clarke, Williams Work Out For Magic

Clarke is widely considered one of most versatile defenders in this draft
by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - What makes this year’s draft class so unique is that many of the top prospects were not well known before college.

Of course, that’s not the case across the board as projected top 10 picks Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Darius Garland were highly touted prospects in high school.

But for others such as Ja Morant, Jarrett Culver, De’Andre Hunter, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Brandon Clarke, they certainly didn’t get the same type of recognition during their youth.

Clarke’s story is extra unique, considering his name wasn’t listed on most of the national high school basketball recruiting databases when he was at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix. The only Division I school that made him an offer was San Jose State, where NBA scouts started to take notice of him while he averaged 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in his sophomore year.

Following that season, the 6-foot-8, versatile forward decided to transfer to Gonzaga, where he redshirted in 2017-18 before starring for the Bulldogs. The decision proved to be a brilliant one, as the native of Vancouver, British Columbia exploded onto the scene and helped the Zags advance to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight this past season.

Throughout the year, Clarke – who worked out for the Orlando Magic on Wednesday – showcased his off-the-charts athleticism and stifling defense. He was so good on that end of the floor that he was named the West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Those who weren’t sure if he was truly a high-level NBA prospect probably changed their stance early in the NCAA Tournament when he erupted for 36 points, making 15 of his 18 shot attempts, while blocking five shots against Baylor in the Round of 32.

“First off, I’m going to be really tough (in the NBA),” said Clarke, who went from 5-foot-10 when he started high school to 6’7 by the time he graduated. “I’m going to play hard every night. There are just so many things on the court I can do. I can guard, I can score and I’m pretty much always going to make the right play. I’m just a really high IQ basketball player that’s always going to do the right thing.”

While his elite rim protection alone is intriguing for teams considering selecting him in the draft, it’s the 22-year-old’s defensive versatility that might be his most valuable strength.

In a league where it’s imperative to have a surplus of players who can guard multiple positions, it’s possible Clarke does that better than anyone else in this draft.

The idea of playing alongside other versatile defenders such as Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba enthralls Clarke, who among forwards at the NBA Draft Combine had the best max vertical leap and three quarter sprint time.

“I think I would fit in just fine with that (defensive identity),” he said. “To me, it’s always been defense first. So obviously I would like being on a team that has that same mindset. So I think I would fit in just fine (with Magic).”

Others working out in front of Magic basketball personnel at Amway Center on Wednesday were Tennessee’s Grant Williams, Memphis’ Jeremiah Martin, Campbell’s Chris Clemons and two international players, Cameroon’s Paul Eboua and Serbia’s Nikola Miskovic.

Like Clarke, Williams is confident his versatility will help him make an immediate impact on any team that chooses him.

“My biggest strengths are just my IQ knowing the game of basketball, my defensive versatility being able to guard multiple positions and also just doing whatever it takes to win,” said the 6-foot-7, 236-pounder, who made major strides in his third and final season with the Volunteers. “I’m a competitor. I’m a tough guy, whether that’s guarding the best player or creating the offense. Also moving the ball and hitting open shots. That’s what I do.”

“I love this team,” he said about the Magic. “They’re a bunch of great guys, great organization, talented, young.”

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