#15 Wes Clark
6'0" 185 lb
When Wes Clark walked on campus in the summer of 2013, there was much optimism surrounding the 6'1 guard from Detroit, Michigan. The number 68 player on the Rivals.com Top 150 had committed to Missouri, understanding that an already talented backcourt of Phil Pressey (who hadn't declared at the time), Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, Keion Bell, and Earnest Ross were going to be solidified players under Frank Haith his first year. Missouri finished the season prior with a 23-11 finish, and an NCAA Tournament birth. Wes Clark was joining a program that had just completed its 5th straight year making the tournament, and a future looked promising at Missouri.
Wes Clark had what most freshmen want in their first year, a chance to play significant minutes, play a role, and learn as much as they can from what is a huge learning curve year. The game is faster, more is demanded of you, you're broken down from your AAU glory days, and you must grasp the grind of what is a marathon of a season. You are challenged, tested both mentally and physically, and pushed to grow up daily. We saw some good signs, and flashes, from Wes during his freshman year campaign. He could spare minutes at the point, he could get the team into early offense, he liked to push the ball in transition, and he was very much a pass first point guard. There were definitely some deer in the headlight moments, but Wes was productive in the minutes he got as a freshman. That year, Wes averaged 4.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, shot 36% from the field, 31% from behind the arc, and 63% from the foul line. Missouri finished the year with a 24-12 record, and an NIT appearance.
Not just a few months following his freshman season, news broke that his head coach Frank Haith would be leaving Missouri for Tulsa. A move that was quick, somewhat unexpected, and now every player was asking "what next?" Losing a coach, especially after one season, makes you evaluate all options. Do I need to go somewhere else? What coach will be brought in? Will Coach Haith take his entire staff with him to Tulsa? How will I contribute next season, and what will my role be?
In the weeks that followed, there were plenty of names associated with the head coaching vacancy at Missouri. In the end, the decision landed on Kim Anderson as the next head coach. Wes decided on staying at Missouri, where he was recruited and wanted to be. Good news was Tim Fuller and Bryan Tibaldi would be staying on staff, which I think was important for the players that were left behind during the coaching transition. It kept them comfortable, and you have two people in place that you trust. It's not easy going through a coaching change. It takes time with any coaching change, you never know how the year will go just on first impression alone, and you're not sure what the roster might look like.
As Wes Clark's sophomore year arrived, he knew that he was going to have to grasp the role of LEADER. That's a tough thing to embrace for a sophomore. You're typically used to seeing a senior who has been in the program, or junior who has had plenty of experience, lead and be a vocal presence in the locker room, on and off the floor. They set the tone for young players. They must have a work ethic, not have an excuse, be driven to put the team before themselves, and always have the pulse of your teammates. This was the role that was vacant when Earnest Ross, Jabari Brown, and Jordan Clarkson left. They were the three players looked up to, who contributed the most on the floor, and were the leaders of the team. Who would step up into that role was the question. Wes knew he wanted to be that guy, but knew he would have to look in the mirror and make changes to himself. That's what you admire most about Wes Clark. He took on that role, and it's not an easy one.
Throughout last season, Wes Clark had games where he was hard to guard. He'd play some at the point, but was at his best off the ball in the 2 guard spot. Wes has great speed rim to rim, he has a nice pull up jump shot, can come off ball screens and attack the paint, and had the capability to knock down open three-point shots this season. He took steps, he grew up, and it showed in his play. When I think of Wes, I think of toughness. Wes showed that to me this season. As a freshman, he was trying to find his way. He was trying to find a role, and do his part, and not make a mistake. As a sophomore, he was much more aggressive. He looked for his shot more, he was active defensively, and was our best primary on ball defender as a guard. He had quick hands, would get out in passing lanes, and was our most improved defender which was an area he struggled with his freshman year. Wes had 12 double figure point games, 6 games with 5 or more assists, and showed the ability to rebound well at his size with 8 games of 5 or more rebounds. Wes had his best game against #1 Kentucky at home in January. He had 19 points on 7-16 shooting, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. What I loved about him in that game was he was not afraid. I actually liked that he was mixing it up a bit with Devin Booker, jawing back and forth at times, and going at each other on both ends of the floor. Oh, and this was the first game that followed the gut-wrenching loss at home to Arkansas that saw Wes miss two free throws in the closing seconds of a 1 point loss.
Here is what doesn't show up in a stat sheet, it's what Mizzou fans should love about this young man. Wes Clark was a big reason we were in the Arkansas game at home, and had a chance to win it at the end. Missed free throws happen, it's a part of the game. To see the emotion of Wes after the game, and to know how much he cared for this team was all I needed. I knew he'd bounce back, and he did in a big way. For a sophomore, to be in that crucial of a late game situation, and to come up short is not an easy thing. We saw it with D'Angelo Allen against Oklahoma State. It's a learning experience, it's that bad taste in your mouth that you hope you never feel again. What it does though is teach you to never put yourself in that position. Shoot pressure free throws every day on your own, make 100 lay ups every day after practice, and be confident in yourself the next time your in that scenario.
Then Columbia, South Carolina happened, and we all were sick. To see an injury to that extent, to hear the almost piercing screams that came from Wes, and to see players covering their eyes from what looked like a compound fracture was excruciating. The first thing that popped into my head was Kevin Ware back when he was at Louisville in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Thankfully, the extent to Wes's injury he suffered was a dislocation. It looked much worse. Wes received treatment, rehabbed his arm, and will bounce back from this injury.
Where does Wes go from here? Continue to grow, continue to lead, continue to develop your skill set, and continue to become a knock down shooter. Wes was great off the dribble, and hit some big shots. He took a big step from his freshman year to his sophomore year. I'd love to see him take that same jump to his sophomore year, both physically and mentally. Wes Clark is the leader of this basketball team going forward, he is the presence in that locker room that this team is desperate for, and he can be that guy as a junior year next season. Wes can play the 1 and the 2, but I primarily want to see him off the ball. It's when he's at his best, and when he is running lanes in transition good things happen. He's an effective passer, he's unselfish, and he can finish in traffic going through contact. Wes needs to be more of a consistent shot maker, hopefully getting those shooting percentages into the 40's if possible. The future is bright for Wes, if he continues to work, stays healthy, and leads this basketball team with his toughness that this team needs.
I make no bones about my admiration for Clark as a player. I love tough, gritty guards. And the rate at which Clark grew, even during the season, was exponential. He started out hot, but struggled through the bulk of the non-conference schedule once the Tigers went to Maui. Once the Tigers came out of their own funk, one of the leaders was Clark, he was so strong against Illinois, even hitting a clutch shot to even the game before Rayvonte Rice's late game heroics. For the longest period is seemed like Clark was the only bright spot during a long losing streak. He had seized leadership of the young team until his injury against South Carolina. However, despite all these good things, Clark still has a ways to get better. I think the fact that he seemed about the only player able to create his own shot off the dribble forced Wes to take a lot of questionable shots. And with a year in the weight room, and talent around him, Clarks shot selection should improve. And with an improved shot selection, you should see Clark's shooting percentages improve. But there is no doubt that Clark is an important cog for this team if they want to dig out of the rut of this past year.
The growth we saw from year one to year two in Wes was dramatic and noticeable. No longer was he getting called for putting his hands on the man he was defending, no longer was he wildly out of position flying around the arc trying to catch up with his man, it was nice. And then he got hurt, and it curtailed what was becoming a nice sophomore season for the presumptive leader of this team. What Wes does in his junior season is potentially more predicated on the play of his backcourt mate next season. Can TI take over at the point, allowing Wes to play the role of the off guard, letting him catch and shoot, drive to the rim and move around the perimeter as opposed to running the show? When Wes gets back on the floor he's going to have to be the guy for this team, he's going to have to be the guy to settle everyone down, to get the guys out of their own heads and to focus on the next play. If he can do all that, rehab well and get to play his more natural position, I think we can expect big things in year three from him.
Let's start by saying that Wes Clark is the most important player on the roster for the next two seasons. This is a program that desperately needs leadership from players, and Clark is pretty much the only option - everyone else is either too young, or not a strong contributor on the court. Luckily, Wes looks to be developing into a fine leader for a Kim Anderson team - vocal, physical, a great defender, and absolutely fearless. He was playing his best basketball of the season when he went down with a dislocated elbow against South Carolina. What's odd is that there's a bit of dispute as to his best position. Is he a point guard, or is he better playing at the 2? There's no question that the best (or least bad) version of this year's team had Shamburger at the 1 and Clark at the 2, but Wes is a point guard, and my expectation is that he'll improve his ability to attack off the dribble, and even if he's not a pure passer like Phil Pressey, his ability to lead the team on the floor will be vital. Wes Clark was one of the few bright spots on the team this year, and if Kim Anderson succeeds the way we all hope he will, Clark will be a centerpiece of how it happens.