Freshman Donte Clark filling sixth-man role for UMass



Last modified: Saturday, January 10, 2015

AMHERST — Most of the crowd at Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion was on its feet at the end of the closely contested first half as UMass looked for the last shot. With four seconds left, Donte Clark didn’t hesitate.

He casually launched a 3-pointer from just left of the top of the key. As it dropped in and the clock ran out, the Minuteman fans cheered. Clark jogged off the court looking more like he’d just completed a shooting drill in practice.

For a player in his first collegiate season after sitting out last year for academic reasons, the redshirt freshman from Charlotte, North Carolina, has shown little of the anxiety that many rookies have to overcome. He doesn’t gloat over the makes or fret over the misses.

“I try not to overthink things. When you do, that’s when you mess up. I just try to stay on the right path,” said Clark prior to Wednesday’s practice. “When I was growing up, my dad used to tell me, just worry about the next play, not the play that just happened. It definitely worked.”

Clark entered the season as a bit of a wild card. UMass coach Derek Kellogg liked his talent, but he wasn’t exactly sure how he’d use the 6-foot-4 guard with several older guards battling for time already. Clark’s play has forced Kellogg to give him more minutes.

Kellogg had hoped Jabarie Hinds would be the Minutemen’s source of offense and energy off the bench. While Hinds has been inconsistent, Clark has filled the role. Over the last six games, only senior center Cady Lalanne scored more points than Clark, who averaged 12.3 points during that stretch. Clark is the most reliable 3-pointer shooter (47.4 percent) on a team that badly needs outside threats.

Clarke (9.3 ppg) has embraced the responsibilities of being the sixth-man.

“I just try to play my role, come off the bench and do what coach needs me to do. If it’s scoring, it’s scoring. If it’s defense, it’s defense. I’m just trying to help my team out,” he said. “Two of my favorite players come off the bench. (Los Angles Laker) Nick Young and (Los Angeles Clipper) Jamal Crawford. I get to see what’s going on during the game and what I need to do when I come in.”

Despite his early success, Clark hasn’t been overly impressed with himself.

“I still have a lot to work on. Sometimes guys just get hot,” he said.

Kellogg is challenging Clark to become more complete.

“Donte has grown pretty quick and done some good things offensively. He’s got a little ways to go on the defensive end for what we need him to do,” Kellogg said. “I would like him to do what he’s doing on the offensive end and be a lock-down defender. We’ve seen over the years that takes some time. He has shown some promise he can do it. Now it’s making a conscious effort.”

ALL BASKETBALL, ALL THE TIME — When finals end this week, UMass will have over a month to focus strictly on basketball as most students will be gone and spring classes don’t start until Jan. 20.

Kellogg said it’s coming at the right time.

“This would be a nice time of year to get finals behind us and get a nice run where we can practice and get better,” Kellogg said. “I think everyone knows we need practice time with some things to work on. It comes at a pretty good time after a pretty tough stretch of games and travel. There are a lot of things that are there but haven’t been perfected yet. It’s getting better at a lot of things at once.”

Lalanne agreed.

“The majority of the team is done with finals. We can all focus on basketball,” Lalanne said. “I think this team needs to work on some stuff and really focus a lot. We can get individual workouts and really fine-tune our game.”

BERGER LIKELY OUT — Seth Berger arrived at Wednesday’s practice still wearing a boot on his injured left foot. He replaced it with a sneaker to ride a stationary bike early on, but couldn’t participate in practice and is unlikely to play in Saturday’s 4 p.m. game at Canisius.

“Next week he’ll definitely be good,” Kellogg said. “Can he be good for Saturday? I’m not sure. He’s not going to practice until probably Friday or Saturday.”

Kellogg said he couldn’t see using Berger until the sophomore forward was able to contribute at full capacity.

“He was just starting to really get in a groove and play well for us and solidify a role as a starter and a defensive guy and he gets hurt,” Kellogg said. “I’d rather not go through that again. I’d rather get it out of the way, get him healthy and fit him back in.”

HOLLOWAY, HINES LIMBO — The NCAA still hasn’t ruled on the eligibility of freshmen Rashaan Holloway or Malik Hines. Holloway is at least a partial qualifier, having already been cleared to receive a scholarship. Once grades are submitted, if he has a grade point average of 2.5 or higher, he’d be eligible to practice even before the NCAA makes a final ruling. If he’s fully cleared, he could practice regardless of his first semester GPA.

Even if he’s allowed to practice, his injured knee could keep him off the court.

“He’s got to get his knee looked at,” said Kellogg, who expected Holloway to spend winter session at home in New Jersey.

Hines hasn’t been cleared to receive a scholarship yet and could still be declared a full, partial or nonqualifer. He could practice under the same conditions as Holloway if he’s a partial or full qualifier.

If the NCAA declared either player fully eligible, they would redshirt this season.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage


 


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