Basketball: Clark in basketball zone

R.J. Clark has had a breakout season on the basketball court.

R.J. Clark has always been known for his football skills. But the San Benito High senior has proved he’s got some serious game on the basketball court as well. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Clark has had a breakthrough season, contributing in a variety of ways for a team that is looking to make some noise before the regular season ends.
Clark, a guard/forward, scored a career-high 16 points against Christopher on Jan. 13, using an assortment of drives and floaters to repeatedly get to the basket off dribble penetration. Clark’s performance was all the more impressive considering Christopher possesses one of the taller front lines in the league.
“I try to position myself and use my quickness to my advantage,” Clark said. “I know against taller guys I need to get myself to a better angle to the basket.”
Clark understands the nuances of the game, knowing every step and angle he takes to the rim is the difference between getting a shot off or getting it blocked. The left-hander has handled a variety of roles for the team, whether it’s setting up the offense at times, driving to the basket or rebounding.
All coaches can appreciate a player of Clark’s caliber, and Balers coach Mike Baumgartner has to like Clark’s versatility.
“I can rebound with the big boys (in the paint) or be on the perimeter,” Clark said. “I play scrappy and aggressive and I’m not afraid to challenge people. I want to do everything well, and I try to be as bendable as coach wants me to be.”
Even though Clark didn’t receive much playing time last year, his ascension into the starting lineup this season shouldn’t be that surprising. For the first time since Clark entered high school, he spent some of the off-season going to basketball camps. In the previous off-seasons, all of Clark’s activities were focused on football—and rightly so, given his skills as a quarterback.
But Clark decided to squeeze in some basketball activities, knowing he wanted his senior year of on the hardwood to be his best season yet. Clark went to a camp at St. Mary’s College in Moraga while also mixing in his own practice sessions last summer. The extra work made the transition from football to basketball a bit more manageable.
“I wanted to stay in basketball shape and keep a mindset for basketball,” he said. “I practiced basketball more than ever this last off-season. I used last year as a motivator for me to push harder and show that I am good enough to start. It made me want to push harder and get more intense.”
Clark started the season as one of the team’s top reserves before he was inserted into the starting lineup a month ago. Even though the Balers are having a tough season—they were just 1-6 in league entering Wednesday’s game against Palma— Clark said he feels good about the direction the team is headed.
“We’re coming into our own right now,” he said.
Clark grew up playing basketball and football, showing a high level of intensity and competitiveness at an early age. Clark continues to show an insatiable appetite for competition. After a recent two-hour practice, Clark went to San Juan Elementary School later that day and played three-plus hours of pickup basketball.
“My legs were dead, but it was super fun,” he said. “I just try to push as hard as I can all the time. “That’s my favorite thing to do, is compete and push myself to my limit.”
That intensity to win any battle—whether it’s a loose ball, rebound or shooting contest in practice—is what drives Clark every time he’s on the court.

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