There was no reason to think it would be easy.
Very little has been this year for Stephen Clark and the Douglass Trojans, so a fourth consecutive state championship wasn’t going to be.
Not until Clark scored his 50th and 51st points Saturday afternoon had the second-ranked Trojans sealed up the state championship with an 82-80 win over No. 1 Roland in the Class 4A title game at State Fair Arena.
Playing on a sprained ankle suffered Thursday, and with a stress fracture in his left wrist sustained in early January, Clark made nine 3-pointers and hit 15 of 32 field goals in all, routinely offering an answer for a big Roland bucket.
Clark, an Oklahoma State signee, and Roland’s Seth Youngblood went head-to-head on several occasions. Youngblood, bound for Arkansas-Fort Smith, scored 41, hitting nine 3-pointers of his own, showing range to rival Clark’s.
The Clark-Youngblood duel had the Big House crowd of approximately 7,000 roaring with each deep 3-pointer, each smooth drive to the hoop.
“It was exciting,” said first-year Douglass coach Anthony Andrews. “Just a lot of fun to watch the kids compete.”
As fun as Saturday’s showdown was, it almost didn’t happen.
Last May, after longtime Douglass coach Terry Long left to take the head coaching job at Mustang, Clark began to pursue the possibility of graduating early and enrolling in college.
When the right opportunity didn’t surface, Clark decided to try prep school at Quest Prep in Las Vegas. He spent a month there, but the new school struggled to put its basketball program together.
“This year was a learning experience,” Clark said. “I went off to see if I could handle prep school, but my mom wasn’t feeling it, so I had to come back home, because she knows what’s best for me.”
When he returned, he had a new coach in place of Long, a family friend of the Clarks for years. It took time to meld the players with the new staff as each side tried to learn and understand the other.
“A lot of this game is about building relationships, and that doesn’t just come quickly, especially when you’re dealing with 16-, 17-year-old kids,” Andrews said. “It’s been a long year, but it’s been a fun year. It’s been a year that I think everybody involved has learned and grown. Down the road, we’ll be able to reach back and appreciate this year.”
On Saturday afternoon, surrounded by reporters with a championship medal hanging around his neck, Clark couldn’t have been happier that he returned.
“I’m glad I came home and got it done,” he said. “This championship was the toughest, and that’s why I love this one the most.”
Thursday’s ankle injury didn’t hinder him much, and he only went to the bench once Saturday, after his younger brother, Deondre — who is 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds — banged into him as both went for a rebound.
Stephen Clark went to the floor, banging his head hard and remaining on the court for a minute before walking to the bench.
“I thought I was done,” Stephen said with a smile. “I had a really bad headache. I laid there and thought about it, and was like, ‘We gotta finish it. We’re here, we gotta finish it out.’”
If anything has been learned about Stephen Clark in four years at Douglass, it’s that he always finishes — strong.
Very few high school players get to be a part of four consecutive championship teams, and even fewer are their team’s leading scorer each season, like Clark was.
Clark’s passion for basketball is unmistakable. Just moments after his last high school basketball game, he was already thinking about his first one in college.
“It’s a great feeling to know I finished with four state championships,” Clark said. “And I got to get another one with my little brother.
“Now I’ve got to get ready for Oklahoma State.”