Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Time to shine: Donte Clark will be counted on to lead UMass men’s basketball in 2016-17

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Daily Collegian file photo)

(Daily Collegian file photo)

It’s Donte Clark’s time to thrive and there’s no disputing that fact for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team in 2016-17.

During his first two collegiate seasons, Clark blended in the background behind former players Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds, who carried the load with their veteran leadership. Now there is no more hiding for Clark. All eyes are on him.

Clark is cognizant of the fact his younger teammates are looking at him for leadership.

“They’re definitely watching me. They tell me all the time,” Clark said before Saturday’s practice. “It’s important for me to come out every practice as hard as I can because I know that if I’m going hard, they’re going to do the same.”

“Donte has really grown as leader,” junior guard C.J. Anderson said. “First coming in and last year, he was really quiet. That’s just the guy he is. He understands that he’s supposed to be a leader this year and that’s his role and he’s been stepping up big time for this team. Everybody’s trusting in him, so it’s going to a good year for him.”

Offense is what has largely defined Clark during his time at UMass. During his freshman year, he averaged 9.6 points per game and that production increased to 16.1 points per game during last season, second on the team behind Davis. With offensive stalwarts like Davis and Hinds gone, Clark’s offensive game will need to take another step forward if the Minutemen want to find success.

“This is his year,” Anderson said. “We’ve been talking about it day in, day out. It’s his time to prove himself. The conference doesn’t think he’s a top 10 player. He is. There’s no doubt about it.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg knows Clark has the ability to take the proverbial next step and he’s challenging the junior to make that leap.

“When I look at these magazines and he’s not one of the top 10 players in some people’s opinions in the league, I challenge him to be that player,” Kellogg said. “To be a guy who’s thought of as an all-league first-team player. A guy who not only leads us in scoring, but leads us in rebounds and dives for loose balls and assists because I believe he’s very capable.”

Kellogg is aware of the fact that Clark would rather lead by example than by being a vocal player on the court.

“Being vocal, I’m not really sure that’s his forte, but his forte is being a leader in the way he carries himself,” Kellogg said. “When we talk and meet the guys, they all bring his name up as a guy they look up to. I’m challenging him to be Donte, but be Donte at the highest level possible.”

All of the buzz surrounding the Minutemen over the offseason has centered around their recruiting class that included two four-star recruits, DeJon Jarreau and Chris Baldwin, and three three-star recruits, Brison Gresham, Unique McLean and Tyrn Flowers.

Of the five freshmen, Jarreau is the most highly touted and the comparisons to Clark have been evident early on.

“(DeJon) reminds me of myself every day,” Clark said. “He’s kind of laid back, not going as hard as he’s supposed to sometimes. I talk to him a lot and have taken him under my wing. I’ve known him before he came here.”

Competition has driven both to succeed and push each other in early practices.

“I go at them like I go at anyone else,” Clark said. “They try to go at me like anyone else. They’re out there hacking me.”

With the youth of UMass, energy and excitement has not been lacking in the Minutemen’s practices.

“It’s been one of the most energetic teams that I’ve played on as far as all the young guys coming in loud and excited to play,” Clark said. “This is one of the most talented teams I’ve played on.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoin34.

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