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A Few Final Thoughts on Jason Clark

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Having already looked back at the careers of Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims, it only seems right to spend a paragraph or eleven spilling out a few memories about Jason Clark's time on the Hilltop. Doing is a bit more difficult than with the other departing Hoyas, each of whom had a couple of ready narratives: Hollywood's enigmatic personality and sweet shooting; Hank's good humor and late blooming on the court. Clark's career-a gradual, four-year ascent-is remarkable for being typical.

Like Sims, Clark began his college tenure as a bit player in the 2009 apocalypse. An unfortunate preponderance of our memories from that season could be tagged with one or more of the labels "DaJuan," "ill-advised," "Nikita," and "backboard." But the catastrophe afforded occasional bits of joy, thanks in large part to that year's promising underclassmen. While Greg Monroe was the best of the freshmen, Jason had his moments, notching double figures to help pile on in a home win over hated Syracuse, and introducing the college basketball world to the feats of a normal-sized guard with an extraordinary wingspan: an unexpected perimeter block here, a hard-to-reach steal there. Amid the wreckage of the team's collapse, a solid player was emerging.

Clark's sophomore year accelerated that emergence. Monroe commanded increasing attention inside, as did a resurgent Austin Freeman on the perimeter, with Chris Wright as an increasingly effective (but sometimes still wrecking-ball-prone) third wheel. A dearth of wing depth opened up a starting spot for Clark, who surpassed the minimal expectations by converting one wide open perimeter look after another. Having scored double figures just three times in his freshman season, Jason did so in four of the first five games of his sophomore year, then notched 20 to keep an early rout against Seton Hall from getting too interesting.

The season-defining performance came a few weeks later against then-No. 2 Villanova, the culmination of what was, for better or worse, a season-defining eight days for the rollercoaster Hoyas. Having tempered the ecstasy of trouncing the eventual national champion Duke by laying an egg against South Florida, the Hoyas needed revenge in a snow-bound rematch with the Wildcats. Georgetown seemed to have the motivation against ‘Nova it lacked earlier in the week, as the Hoyas' rival had survived a second-half run to beat Georgetown in Philadelphia just a few weeks before. After ten minutes of back-and-forth action, the Hoyas caught fire, with Clark in particular scoring nine straight Hoya points to help build a nineteen-point halftime lead. The sophomore finished the day with 24 points, burying six of seven three-pointers, a stunning display of marksmanship even for fans accustomed to Freeman-level outbursts. The snow, the payback, the rivalry, the 103 points all made for a terrifically fun day, with Clark briefly the center of attention. The freshman role player had become a sophomore sniper, a reputation he backed up with nine three-pointers in a rollicking run to the Big East Tournament final that March.

Clark continued to be the third of the three-guard formation his junior year, stepping up in some moments while remaining frustratingly absent in others. An inspired 17-point performance in an otherwise pedestrian win over Tulane was revealed to have come the same day as his grandmother died, a rare glimpse into the personal life of a player who seemed to open up a bit less than his gregarious classmate Sims. (The same subject inspired a more revealing profile just months ago.) Two weeks later, three straight three-pointers buried a top-ten Missouri squad in a thrilling overtime win. But familiarity, particularly the familiarity of NCAA tournament losses, breeds contempt, and we slowly started to pick apart Clark's game. Couldn't he tighten up the handle a bit? Why did he seem to disappear for long stretches, sometimes whole games? Couldn't he have stepped up when Wright went down?

Some of the questions were fair, others were expressions of frustration about another disappointing end to another moderately successful season. Regardless, by last summer, Clark, once the shiny new object of the Hoya offense, was in some disgruntled fans' minds a rusty holdover standing in the way of the next era of Georgetown basketball. He hadn't quite made the transition from explosive shooter to steady centerpiece (arguably in large part because for so long he was third fiddle to Wright and Freeman). Cynicism amplified a more than faint drumbeat to give Clark's starting spot to the cocky, irascible freshman Jabril Trawick, who was touted as an antidote to the ills of the previous Hoya squads.

Then, while we were alternately exorcising the demons of seasons gone by and documenting our lunches, a really, really weird thing happened. Clark, one of the more mild-mannered Hoyas, started an international incident. Okay, not really. The Bayi Rockets hold that honor thanks to doing everything short of lighting the match, as they sullied Georgetown's goodwill tour of China with a rigged and brutal slugfest. But Clark, pushed past the breaking point, found himself the catalyst of the attention-grabbing ugliness that ensued, the lone Hoya in a shoving match that became a brawl that became headline news. All of this was more than a bit strange for a player about whom unassuming seemed to be an understatement. And, sure enough, truer to our understanding of Clark, JTIII asked him and Hollis to represent the team in the public peacemaking in the following days.

Back stateside, Clark proceeded to rattle off a remarkably consistent senior season. Most obviously, there was the scoring, in which he led the team and notched double figures in 26 of 33 games. He poured in 26 points in a fierce win over Memphis in Maui, repeatedly slicing through the lane for baskets before stepping outside to hit the overtime three-pointer to put the Hoyas ahead for good. The next week, Clark racked up 22 in an otherwise offensively challenged win at Alabama. Twenty-six more paced an exhilarating comeback over Marquette, and Clark turned in a virtuoso, career-high 31 to keep an uneven victory at DePaul from being any closer.

The no-shows that marred previous seasons crept up again, most memorably in a sleepwalk at Pitt and a disaster at Seton Hall, in which Clark inexplicably hoisted just four shots. But on the whole his senior season was characterized by Coach Thompson's midseason assessment that Clark was "going to give you an honest effort every day." This seemed to be a nod to the fact that, despite having assumed the mantle of the team's leading scorer, Clark remained very much the willing role player. For the second straight year, Clark's go-go-gadget arms helped him grab both enough steals to lead the team and better than four rebounds per game, helping Georgetown's rebounding-by-committee efforts. At St. John's, he grabbed eight boards while relieving an ineffective Markel Starks by dishing out eight assists. Clark also transformed his shot selection, expanding beyond his spot-up performances of years gone by to seek his shots in the mid-range and at the rim. When Starks's antics at Seton Hall landed him on the pine, Clark slid over to the point guard role without incident (well, except for those eight turnovers at Marquette). In all, Clark spent his senior season leading by example, rarely seeming to take over the mantle of vocal leader, but instead working on every defensive possession, loose ball, and rebound and in the process teaching his younger teammates.

Near the end of his season, Clark left us with two career-capping moments. First came a fitting embrace with Sims as the seconds wound down on the Hoyas' Senior Night drubbing of Notre Dame. A few weeks later, a bigger stage brought a scintillating 21 points in Georgetown's opening round NCAA Tournament win over Belmont. Two months later, he more formally ended his time at Georgetown by graduating with his classmate Sims.

Clark's three seasons as a starter inched him up through the Georgetown record books, where he now sits twentieth in points, fifteenth in steals, and fourth in three-pointers made. Impressive numbers, sometimes racked up in bunches, and in other cases steadily, one at a time. His very solid four-year career, highlighted by superlative performances in individual games but not a sustained postseason run, is not unlike the legacies of his long-time backcourt mates Wright and Freeman. The similar career arcs, and of course so much time in the backcourt together, likely will continue to link the DMV trio as the core of an era between the euphoric Green-Hibbert-Wallace years and the teams, fate TBD, soon to be highlighted by this year's underclassmen. Most of us harbor at least mixed feelings about that span, and hope the years to come more resemble the early JTIII era. Even so, it's hard to hold hard feelings against a good kid that performed well on the court for several years, was interesting and thoughtful off of the court, and graduated on time. Clark was a good kid, and we wish him well.