Shooting Star
Countless hours in the gym pay off for Verdigris standout

By George Schroeder Published: June 14, 2007
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Wh
y Bob Knight and Billy Gillispie and Bill Self have Rotnei's cell number.

And maybe — though all sides deny it — why Conley Clarke is Oral Roberts' new director of basketball operations. But at this point, if ORU reeled in Rotnei, it would qualify as a recruiting coup of mammoth proportions.

Detractors point to Rotnei's size and speed, or lack thereof. But a week or so ago, after offering a scholarship, Kentucky's Gillispie told Kelly he didn't care if Rotnei lost an inch and 10 pounds and a step.

"With his toughness, that's the kid I want leading my team,” Kelly recalls Gillispie saying.

There's talent, too. Rotnei's dad played college basketball. His mother played college volleyball. His younger sister, Cassie, excels in both sports.

But environment certainly has played a major role. When Rotnei was about 6 months old, his father took to placing a ball on the infant's blanket, just out of reach of his right hand. Then, when Rotnei had strained to grasp it, Conley would move the ball to the left side.

"People thought we were crazy,” Conley remembers, and chuckles. "But he's really good with either hand.”

And there was never a doubt as to Rotnei's favorite pastime. Whenever he saw a basketball goal, the toddler would point.

"Shoot!” he'd say. "Shoot! Shoot!”

By the fourth grade, father and son were shoot, shoot, shooting together almost every day. Over the years, with a great deal of assistance from Uncle Kelly, they've honed innate ability into uncanny sharpness.

But make no mistake. This is dedication, not drudgery. No one's driven Rotnei more than himself.

"This isn't a workout to him,” Kelly says. "This is his sanctuary.”

Rotnei, a devout Christian, might quibble with the phrasing. But not the concept.

"God has given me this talent for a reason,” he says. "I want to use it for Him.”

The night Rotnei scored 55 against Wewoka, the team bus pulled into the parking lot about 3 a.m. When Conley went to put away the equipment, he heard a ball bouncing in the gym.

Rotnei was shooting again. Except that the lights were off, this wasn't surprising.

"If I could, I'd be up here all through the night,” he says.

Every night, he means. Occasionally, Conley and Kelly have to force him to take some time off. The other day, Rotnei did just that. He attended church, went fishing, just took it easy.

About 6 o'clock, he headed up to the gym.

"He didn't quite make it a whole day,” Conley says.

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Shooting superlatives
During his workouts, Rotnei Clarke has achieved some astounding numbers. Among them:

•Made 94 of 100 3-pointers in an exhibition for former Arkansas coach Stan Heath.

•Made 74 straight 3-pointers.

•Made 137 straight free throws.

By George Schroeder

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