NORMAN — The work ethic had always been there from Cam Clark.
But after a junior season in which his scoring average dipped two points a game and he received no starts, Clark’s work became more focused.
“It was just wanting to get better, that’s all it really is,” said Clark, who started a combined 60 games in his first two seasons at OU. “Everybody had a positive attitude for this coming season and just wanting to be great. That’s what we’re trying to build.”
A lot of that started with Clark. He retooled his game, became a leader — by example if not always vocally — and has Oklahoma in solid position to earn the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big 12 Tournament.
Wednesday night, Clark will play his final home game when the No. 23 Sooners host West Virginia at 8 p.m.
“It’s great to see hard work really does pay off,” Clark said. “We’ve still got a long way to go. We’re not going to stop working.”
Not long after the Sooners’ season ended last year in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Clark had a conversation with Buddy Hield.
“This has got to be a great offseason for me,” Clark told Hield.
“I told him I need you to have a great offseason,” Hield said. “Because coming in, Cam had all the hype and he didn’t really show everybody what he had. I feel like this is his year. It was his time to marquee his game and show everybody what he could do and I think he’s done it.
“Coach (Lon) Kruger helped him a lot, running sets for him and having the confidence in him.”
That was especially evident during nonconference play, when Clark averaged nearly 18.5 points per game and helped the Sooners to an 11-2 record.
With Oklahoma fielding a young lineup that includes three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup and just two other upperclassmen in the rotation, the Sooners needed all of the production Clark could give them.
“He was consistently our cornerstone offensively and kind of allowed those other guys to grow a little bit and develop,” Kruger said. “Just really happen for him because he’s worked hard, especially in this last offseason to retool a little bit and increase his range and it’s paid off. Any time a guy invests that much time and effort, it’s really nice to see it pay off for them.”
The hard work hasn’t paid off for just Clark, though.
It has rubbed off on those young players who were drawn into the gym by the time they saw Clark, Hield and others put in.
“Every time a player gets in the gym a little bit extra, that’s noticed by everyone else and increases the likelihood of others spending extra time there,” Kruger said. “With this team, we have a group of guys that have done it. Cam, since last season ended — in the spring, summer and fall really worked hard to improve his range, improve his shooting mechanics. It’s not always easy to do that going into your senior year but Cam did, and the results are obvious and that kind of gets the attention of everybody else.”
And Clark, known as one of the quiet guys on the team, also turned into a leader who would say something when it was warranted.
“He came out of his shell a lot,” Hield said. “He wants to leave an impression on this program and I think he has. Everybody loves what he’s done but he’s still hungry. This team’s hungry as well.”