Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Donte Clark expected to be go-to guy for UMass basketball

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(Cade Belisle/Daily  Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily
Collegian)

For the past two seasons, there was no doubt who the go-to guy was for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team.

Two years ago it was the flashy 5-foot-9 point guard Chaz Williams who drove the ship to the NCAA tournament and last season it was center Cady Lalanne who dominated the interior for UMass. Neither disappointed as Williams averaged 15.6 points and 6.9 assists per game, while Lalanne finished with 11.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

Now entering the 2015-16 season, the Minutemen will turn to Donte Clark to be that guy.

Unlike Williams and Lalanne, who were seniors when UMass needed them most, Clark is only a sophomore and his expectations come at a time when most players his age are still getting a feel for the intensity and grind of a full college basketball season.

“If we’re going to do anything, he’s got to be a 15 (or) 18-point a game guy. Every night, not just when it’s easy or convenient,” coach Derek Kellogg said.

“He’s got to become a guy that’s thought of either one of the better players in the league or one of the better up-and-coming players in the conference.”

However, Clark wasn’t even suppose to be playing for the Minutemen, or any other school in the Atlantic 10 for that matter.

Clark initially committed to Virginia Tech in the spring prior to the 2013-14 season, but failed to meet the NCAA requirement for course grades and standardized test scores. By rule, Atlantic Coast Conference schools are not allowed to enroll athletes who are non-qualifiers.

A three-star recruit according to ESPN, the Charlotte, North Carolina native out of Hargrave Military Academy received offers from Georgia, Memphis, Providence and Tennessee among other schools.

Last season as a freshman, Clark averaged 9.6 points per game in 32 games played, 18 of which he started. In addition to his 9.6 points per game, his 307 points were the fifth most on the team, trailing only Trey Davis for returning UMass players.

With the departure of Lalanne, as well as Maxie Esho (graduated) and Derrick Gordon (transferred to Seton Hall), the Minutemen will need to account for the 1,045 points the trio scored for them in 2014-15. Last season, Lalanne, Esho and Gordon scored 47.1 percent of UMass’ points.

(Graphic by Kelley Dillon)

(Graphic by Kelley Dillon)

“I definitely look forward to it, especially because this year I’m going to have a bigger role than I did last year with Cady, Maxie and (Derrick) not being here,” Clark said.

Clark is expected to start this season alongside Davis and Jabarie Hinds, with a UMass lineup that will have to play small due to its lack of depth in the frontcourt. Clark will mainly play on the wing, but he said he’s confident in running the offense and bringing the ball up if Kellogg needs him too.

Clark said he played some point guard before he became a Minuteman.

In addition to improvements to his offensive game, an even bigger focus for the 6-foot-4, 188-pound guard is the ability to bring the intensity on a daily basis and to bring the same mindset that he has on offense, to his defensive game.

“He’s got to shoot at a higher percentage. The great thing is I haven’t shied away from telling him that. He knows. He also has to become a better defensive player. I think a lot of what we do, once the big guys come along, will hinge on what he’s capable of doing,” Kellogg said.

Clark said that during the offseason, coaches have wanted him to focus on his defense and rebounding, something that prevented him from being an all-around player his freshman year.

“The coaches definitely preached it, but I’ve always wanted to play a big role, no matter what team I’ve played for,” Clark said.

“It’s definitely a bigger focus. I actually have to have a bigger focus and lock in and make sure I just don’t run back when someone shoots a shot,” he added. “I have to make sure I’m crashing the boards and lock in on defense and to make sure I know where everyone is and not just me.”

Clark’s eyes lit up at the thought of being the featured member of the UMass offense, but he gave a simple answer as to what he wants the fans to think of him as.

“I just want people to know that I’m a great player,” Clark said.

“A good team player and a good all-around player that can score points, stop other people from scoring and can go grab rebounds.”

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.

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