Adversity kept coming Stephen Clark's way.
Injuries and doubters. The unsuccessful Las Vegas prep school experiment and the difficulties that came with the coaching change at Douglass.
Fighting through all those things, Clark and the Trojans still came out on top. On the court at State Fair Arena, as he held the gold ball, Clark felt the same joy he had felt the three times before. But he felt a different emotion, too.
Clark's fourth state championship was by far his toughest. His senior season came with more pressure and higher expectations.
The Oklahoman's Super 5 Boys Basketball Player of the Year for the second straight season, Clark routinely delivered, averaging 36.8 points and 13.0 assists per game in a 27-3 season that saw no losses to Oklahoma competition. He became the eighth player in state history to score 3,000 points in a career, finishing with 3,312 points in fifth on the all-time list.
“I was proud that we got it done this year, facing all that adversity, so it was great for us to finish with a championship,” Clark said. “I felt pretty relieved.”
That feeling reached into the stands as well. His mother, Dorshell Clark, might have been more relieved than her son to see the season end with another title.
“I was emotional after we won,” she said. “For him, I know how hard he had worked, and to go through all the trials he had gone through, just to know he won that game, it was a blessing.”
For the first half of the school year, Stephen Clark's focus had been drawn away from basketball.
He spent most of September at Quest Prep in Las Vegas, and when the school wasn't getting its program lined out the way the family wanted, Clark came home.
October was an intense month of recruiting, with programs from coast to coast pursuing him. Ultimately, he chose Oklahoma State over Baylor, Missouri and a few others.
He signed in early November, but even that brought stress. He went back and forth on his decision, then he and his mother got the paperwork to OSU late at night in the final hours of the signing period.
“Vegas was the hardest for me, just letting him go,” Dorshell Clark said. “With the work he had put in, I felt the need to allow him to go.
“We were very stressed out during the recruiting process. Everything was a teaching process.”
Once the season started, things got a little easier, until injuries started popping up. He suffered a stress fracture in his left wrist around Christmas, and dealt with the pain the rest of the year.
His sprained ankle at the state tournament nearly kept him out of the semifinals. But he played that game, and the next, scoring 51 in the finals, his last two free throws clinching the 82-80 win over Roland.
“It felt great to win another championship,” Clark said. “I knew it was my last time to play high school basketball. Now I got time to take a break and start getting ready for Oklahoma State.”