Recruit Clarke visits on AAU stop

Chris Clarke will likely return to Minnesota for an official visit soon.

Chris Clarke of Boo Williams guards the ball during the game against BABC during the Elite Youth Basketball League Session No. 4 on Saturday at the High Performance Academy.

Lisa Persson

Chris Clarke of Boo Williams guards the ball during the game against BABC during the Elite Youth Basketball League Session No. 4 on Saturday at the High Performance Academy.

by Jack Satzinger

When Gophers men’s basketball head coach Richard Pitino tells out-of-state recruits about Minnesota, the athletically gifted teenagers typically don’t know what to expect.

It’s cold. It’s mostly rural. The school’s arena is called “The Barn.”

But if one of the Gophers’ top targets had preconceived notions about the North Star state, they were debunked after the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League tournament in Eagan, Minn., last weekend.

With temperatures approaching the 80s, Chris Clarke, a rising high school senior, toured the University of Minnesota’s urban campus with his parents, who made the trip from Virginia.

“It was definitely eye-opening,” said Clarke’s father, Curt. “A lot of people don’t know what’s out here. … I was pleasantly surprised.”

With the Clarke family’s time in Minnesota falling on a recruiting dead period, Chris and his parents weren’t able to meet with Pitino or tour athletics facilities, per NCAA rules. But walking around the East Bank gave the Clarkes an opportunity to picture the campus where Chris could spend four years of his life.

Chris Clarke said Minnesota is one of the schools recruiting him the hardest — along with the University of Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Creighton University and Iowa State University.

Clarke put his athletic skill set on display over the weekend, finishing well at the rim, running the floor and pulling down rebounds at an impressive rate for his size.

The 6-foot-6-inch forward — playing for Amateur Athletic Union team Boo Williams — scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 68-67 loss to Athletes First on Saturday.

Clarke also committed a team-high four turnovers but said he’s looking to improve his ball security, among other things, this summer.

He also indicated a desire to get stronger over the next few months, which shouldn’t be an issue if he takes after his father, Curt Clarke, a former marine with blacksmith’s arms.

“We want to maximize his success in life,” Curt Clarke said, adding that he’s gone to great lengths to help his son with the recruiting process. “That’s our motivation.”

With that in mind, the Clarkes are very interested in Chris’ academic future — which may include a major in broadcast journalism. Curt Clarke also mentioned Minnesota’s strong science and engineering programs, which would allow his son to go into college with multiple different career opportunities.

“There’s a lot that [Minnesota] offers,” Curt Clarke said.

As far as basketball is concerned, one thing Minnesota could offer Chris Clarke is the opportunity to keep playing with one of his summer teammates, Kenny Williams.

The 6-foot-2-inch guard has offers from the Gophers and Memphis, among others, and is receiving interest from North Carolina and Indiana. Williams and Clarke haven’t talked about playing together in college — yet.

“I’ll probably talk to [Clarke] when it comes down to cutting down my list and making a decision,” Williams said.

Clarke hasn’t cut his list down, either, but the Gophers appear to be one of his favorites. The Clarkes plan on getting the full Minnesota experience with an official visit in the coming months.

“Everything I’ve seen with regard to their style of play — the up and down — seems to be good,” Curt Clarke said. “That’s the best thing for [Chris].”

The Clarkes saw one of Pitino’s infamous jacket tosses while watching a game earlier this year and look forward to getting to know Minnesota’s fiery coach better as the recruitment process goes on.

“I haven’t talked to [Pitino] that much, but from what I’ve seen so far, he’s a pretty good guy,” Chris Clarke said.

If the Clarkes’ weekend in Minnesota is any indication, they’ll like Pitino the more they get to know him, just like the campus he’s trying to sell them on.