Chris Clark has heard all sorts of heckles.
One of the more memorable insults came during his freshman year at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“The fans were chanting ‘the ball boy’s taller,'” Clark said.
At 5-8, Clark is the second-shortest player in the Atlantic Ten Conference. Because of this, Clark knows he must be near-perfect when he steps onto the court. And he has.
The junior point guard entered Sunday’s game atop the Atlantic Ten Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, with a 3.50 clip.
His 2.87 assists per game currently rank 14th.
“Sometimes I try to do stuff that other guys can do, but that I know I can’t,” Clark admitted with a smile. “There’s definitely a lot more pressure on me. But, hey, that’s how it has to be.”Clark has yet to start a game this season, but he has split duties with sophomore Semaj Inge as the Owls’ floor general. The two average 19.2 and 22.3 minutes, respectively.
Clark did start two games as a freshman. The first came when former coach John Chaney penalized Mardy Collins for not wearing his hat to a game; the second when Dustin Salisbery and Mark Tyndale had not practiced since mid-week for a Saturday
game. Clark saw a combined 16 minutes in those contests.
This season, he’s played at least 16 minutes in all but five of the Owls’ 24 games.
“He’s accepted his role coming off the bench,” said Tyndale, a three-year starter. “A lot of times, he’s the sixth man, but he’s doing well out there. I’m really proud of him.”
Playing for first-year coach Fran Dunphy, Clark quickly established himself as a reliable ball-handler. With the Owls searching for their first win against Rutgers in the third game of the season, Clark consistently found the open man. His career-high seven assists played a large role in the Owls’ besting their Big East Conference opponent. Then, Clark dished out six more the next game.
“He understands exactly what this team needs for him to be the best role player he can be, and also what our team needs for us to be successful,” Dunphy said. “He has to be flawless in his approach and he’s getting pretty close.”
In the Owls’ last six games, Clark has totaled 18 assists and just five turnovers. The Owls have won four of those, including Sunday’s victory over first-place Massachusetts.
Clark averages only 3.0 points a game, but when opponents play him to pass, he’s not afraid to shoot. With the Minutemen slowly chipping at a double-digit lead, Clark drained a three-pointer from the right wing to put the Owls up by 13.But Clark knows his role and has embraced
it, Salisbery said.
“His first job is to get people involved and that’s what he does,” Salisbery said. “He really gets a lot of assists. We’ve got the athletes running around the floor and he just pushes the ball a lot.”
The decision of when to push the tempo
is mostly left up to Clark. “We’re trying to give [the point guards] as much free reign as possible,” Dunphy said. “I think that’s always a work in progress.
You’re trying to get them to think the game as much as anybody does out there. “They have the ball in their hands most of the time, so they have to be our coach out on the floor.”
Though Clark has earned the respect of his teammates, he said he knows opponents often underestimate his abilities.
“I like going out there proving them wrong,” Clark said. “So, that’s what I’m going to keep doing. That’s just motivation for me. So that’s fine.” And, two years later, Clark got redemption on those Cameron Crazies. He snagged four steals in Temple’s loss at Duke Jan. 2.
“He’s got the heart of a lion,” Tyndale said.
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.