Basketball players at Butler were given key cards for anytime access to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse at the same time Rotnei Clarke showed up.
Not a chance.
Oklahomans know Clarke as the state's high school career scoring leader, a sharpshooter from Verdigris, a gym rat who not only takes but also makes hundreds of shots every day. It's a routine he continued at Arkansas, then took with him to Butler, the small Indiana school with the big-time basketball program. Since he had to sit out last season under NCAA transfer rules, he couldn't travel with the team.
He might've busted in the gym if necessary.
Thank goodness for the key cards.
“That's been really important for guys who like getting into the gym and working on their shots and working on their game,” Clarke said.
No one fits that description better than him.
After a couple of rough seasons at Arkansas and a tough redshirt season at Butler, Clarke is reaping the benefits of his stick-to-itiveness. He leads Butler in scoring, averaging 17.5 points a game, and helped the Bulldogs upset top-ranked and cross-state rival Indiana last weekend.
Clarke led all scorers in that game with 19.
His biggest points came with the Hoosiers leading by four in overtime. He caught a pass at least eight feet behind the three-point line, and without hesitating, he shot the ball.
He buried it.
That shot started the 8-2 run on which Butler would finish off the Hoosiers.
That game adds to the validation Clarke feels about the choice he made to transfer to Butler a year and a half ago.
“I think it's all tying together,” he said via cellphone from Indianapolis earlier this week. “I believe I made the right decision.”
He thought the same back in the summer of 2011. In June, he decided to leave Arkansas, where he'd grown increasingly disenchanted, and wanted to transfer to another school. He considered returning to his home state and playing for Oklahoma. He thought about Virginia. But in the end, he picked Butler.
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.
“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.