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Rotnei Clarke: Butler gives ex-Oklahoma prep star a new home, and keys to the gym

COMMENTARY — Don't look now but those basketball Cinderellas at Butler may be about to make another run, this one led by former Oklahoma high school basketball star Rotnei Clarke.
by Jenni Carlson Published: December 21, 2012
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Because the Bulldogs had been to back-to-back Final Fours, Clarke knew there was something special and different about the program.

He sensed it even more on his official visit.

“We ended up playing kickball,” he said.

Kickball?

“That was something I'd never done before with a team,” Clarke said, laughing. “The coaches got involved. It was pretty cool.”

Still, how would he fit in and be accepted?

He had no way of knowing for sure.

But the good vibes he got from his visit carried over. Other players didn't look at him as a transfer or as a one-year flash. They thought of him as a teammate.

That helped Clarke through what was an excruciating redshirt season.

“It was definitely one of the toughest years,” he said. “Basketball was taken away from me for that whole year, and that had never (happened) before.”

He credits faith and teammates with helping him cope.

Ditto for practice sessions at Hinkle.

“I had a bunch of those when I was sitting my year out just because I wasn't able to travel with the team,” Clarke said. “I had to stay back, so really the only thing to do was go to the gym and shoot.

“I had a bunch of late nights in the gym where I was by myself.”

Clarke has seen every hour of the day in the historic gym, which was the backdrop for the championship game in the movie “Hoosiers”. Even though he had plenty of solo sessions last year, there aren't many times now when he goes to Hinkle that there isn't at least one other teammate there.

All of it reminds him a bit of his high school days.

“I'm really enjoying playing right now,” he said.

Clarke bounces around the court. He has a spring in his step. He has a pop in his shot.

And frankly, all of that reminds those of us here in Oklahoma of his high school days, too.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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