Looking beyond the numbers, redshirt junior Jordan Clarke was the ultimate team player for the Drake men’s basketball team during the 2011-12 season — and that is why he is my pick for The Times-Delphic Drake Athlete of the Year.
Clarke, a 6-foot-8 forward, was forced into playing the center position for the majority of the season due to an injury to junior Seth VanDeest. He was undersized playing against some of the toughest men in the Missouri Valley Conference. Drake lacked depth at the power forward and center positions, and it leaned on Clarke more than any other player to patrol the paint.
Clarke led the team in rebounding, averaging 6.2 per game, which was good for seventh in the MVC. He recorded the second most steals on the season for the Bulldogs.
In Drake’s 68-61 quarterfinal loss to No. 25 Creighton in the State Farm MVC Championship, Clarke played one of the most inspired games of the season. He posted his fourth double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 rebounds, but his numbers don’t illustrate how much he affected the game.
Clarke played 34 minutes, and during each one of those minutes, he faced the task of guarding one of the best players in the country in the Bluejays’ Doug McDermott.
McDermott, the MVC Larry Bird Player of the Year and one of four finalists for the Naismith National Player of the Year award, finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds.
You might see those stats and say that Clarke got torched. But he didn’t. He is perhaps the best defensive matchup in the MVC for McDermott; the Creighton star is just that good.
Not only was Clarke trusted with this defensive assignment, but he had to anchor the paint and contest shots when his teammates got beat off the dribble. Oh, and he was depended on more than any other Bulldog to grab rebounds when the Bluejays missed.
Despite being Drake’s primary defender on the opposing team’s best player, and despite being the main helping defender when his teammates needed him, Clarke was also expected to grab the majority of the team’s rebounds.
And he did.
This single game exemplified Clarke’s season with the Bulldogs. He was, by far, the team’s most important defensive player. He is arguably the top athlete on the squad, and he has the ability to defend skilled players at multiple positions. One night, Clarke would take on a 6-foot-6 wing player with terrific outside shooting ability. The next night, he would guard a 7-foot center that banged and bruised inside.
Clarke accepted any defensive challenge that was thrown his way, and he still managed to lead the team in rebounding. In addition, Clarke had the highest grade point average on the team (3.24) and was named to the MVC Scholar-Athlete second team.
Even though he didn’t receive the credit that other Bulldogs have garnered this season, Clarke is a worthy selection for Drake Athlete of the Year because he epitomizes a team-first performer.