During the first couple weeks of the school year last August, Brenda Griggs noticed that Stephen Clark was having a little too much fun while she was trying to teach her English class.
Nothing outlandish or disrespectful. Just typical behavior of a teenage boy with a splash of class clown mixed into his personality.
Clark, known by most as Stevie, is a 16-year-old junior at Douglass High School. He attends Griggs' advanced-placement senior English course — and there's nothing typical about that.
Only about five juniors in the school take the class, and none of the others are being nationally recruited as a college basketball prospect like Clark.
Numbers matter in basketball. When Clark scored 65 points in a game last month, it was big news that brought him a lot of attention.
But another number — his 4.0 grade-point average — means just as much as any of his statistics on the basketball court.
Clark's passion to excel, whether in basketball or academics, is strongly founded in his competitive nature.
It started at home, competing against his three brothers in both arenas.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be the smartest person in the house,” Clark said. “That way, I could mess with my brothers and tell them I'm smarter than them. And maybe that would make them want to be better academically, too.
“I'm not gonna play basketball for the rest of my life, so if I go to a good college and get a good education, that way, I'll have something to fall back on.”
Back in August, when Clark was cutting up in Griggs' classroom, the situation was remedied quickly — once his mother, Dorshell Clark heard about it.
“She was up here that day, and the three of us talked it out,” Griggs said. “He promised he wouldn't do it anymore, and he didn't.”
Dorshell is the backbone for good behavior and hard work, not only for Stephen but also his three brothers, Dominique, DeAngelo and Deondre.
“Sometimes it was like she was the toughest mom in the world,” Dominique Clark said with a laugh. “But you know it's because she wants the best for you and she loves you.
“She has the last say-so on everything, but without her, we wouldn't be where we are now.”
The importance of doing things right was laid as Dorshell's foundation by her grandmother, who raised her.
“She required that of me, my mother required it of me, so I require it of them,” she said. “My grandmother always taught me to be a leader, not a follower. She always taught me to pray. She always monitored my friends.”
Dorshell has worked hard to pass those valuable traits on, despite facing the challenges of being a single mother of four boys — two in high school and two in college.
“It's tough and it's even harder when you have to use tough love,” she said. “You don't want to upset them, but you don't want to lead them astray, or lead them into the hands of the wrong people.”
The message got through.
“The way I act in public reflects on my mom, so I don't want to give her a bad reputation,” Stephen said. “So I always try to be good.”
Stephen's father isn't involved in his life, but he has never lacked for strong fatherly influences. Often, it has been present in the form of coaches, like Douglass coach Terry Long and others over the years.
But his oldest brother, Dominique, was always the primary figure in that role.
“If you act up, he's there to put his foot down like a father,” Stephen said. “He always played a big part like that, with discipline or being there for you or whatever.”
Dominique takes pride in playing that role for his little brother.
“I've got two other brothers, but me and Stevie were tight from the start,” Dominique said. “Ever since he could walk, he was right there with me. He was my right-hand man. I couldn't ever get rid of him.”
Where basketball is involved, Dominique and Dorshell both try to keep Stephen on an even keel. They push him to work harder when he struggles, and try to keep him grounded when things are going well.
“I never have a good game even when I have a good game,” Stephen said with a smile. “They always tell me something I did wrong, probably turning the ball over. They try to keep me grounded, and if I messed up, I go get back in the gym to work on it.”
This season, there have been a lot more good games than bad.
A 5-foot-11 point guard, Stephen is averaging 28 points, 12 assists and six rebounds per game. He scored 65 and 51 points in consecutive games last month. His list of college scholarship offers includes 15 major programs, like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Connecticut, Missouri, Arkansas and Memphis.
He was a starter the last two seasons as the Trojans won consecutive state championships, and he's set on winning a third in March.
In April, he'll travel to Germany to play on a U.S. junior team in a tournament against teams from 15 other countries.
But Stephen Clark will never let basketball fully define who he is.
“He likes to play. He likes to laugh. That's his personality,” Griggs said. “But he is also a student who wants to succeed. He's not just a basketball player. Because of the value he puts on his education, Stephen can do whatever he wants to do.”