Dec. 28, 2007
The Nova Notebook, by Villanova director of media relations Mike Sheridan, appears weekly beginning in September through February with monthly updates in the off-season with features on the men's basketball program. This week we catch up with junior forward Shane Clark.
His 67 career games would not seem like enough to qualify for elder statesman status. Yet as only one of two current Wildcats to have seen significant minutes in the school's memorable 2005-06 season, Shane Clark qualifies. As a junior he is now in his third season at Villanova and first as a team captain.
"I'm real happy with where we are at," states Clark following the Wildcats' final practice in advance of the team's final encounter of 2007, a Philadelphia Big Five matchup at the Pavilion against La Salle. "I feel like we are making strides, especially with our defense."
Clark has been in the thick of Villanova's success in the early going. He has started all nine games he has appeared in and ranks second on the club in scoring at 13.0 points per game and rebounding at 6.0 rpg. There have been no ill effects from last April's arthroscopic knee surgery and the hip flexor that forced him to the sidelines in the first half of Villanova's loss to North Carolina State in the finals of the Old Spice Classic on Nov. 25 is better.
On a night when the Wildcats sputtered after starting strong in a win over Columbia on Dec. 22, the 6-7 forward from Philadelphia led Villanova with 15 points, including a couple of 3-point goals. It moved former `Cat assistant and current Lion head coach Joe Jones to lament: "If Scottie Reynolds doesn't get it going, the freshmen are so good and Shane Clark is hitting threes. When I was here we couldn't shoot and now Jay (Wright) has guys like Shane making threes."
In fact, Clark leads Villanova in 3-point accuracy, having drained 13-of-27 (.481) in the early going. His .839 free throw percentage is also tops on the club.
The numbers, though, tell only a portion of the story. Clark's defense has been a constant, no small item on a young team still searching for its defensive identity. His long arms and versatility are comforting to a coaching staff still teaching its philosophy to a large chunk of the roster.
For his part, Clark understands why taking care of business in front of the opponents' basket is crucial.
"In the BIG EAST," he notes. "It's all about getting stops. Every team has explosive players, guys that can get it going quickly. If you aren't getting stops, it can be real tough, no matter how much offense you may have."
It is why Clark and his compatriot captains - Dwayne Anderson, Dante Cunningham, and Scottie Reynolds - have gone to great lengths to insure that the message about defensive responsibility becomes second nature.
"I think being solid defensively is the most important thing for us," he says. "I thought we did a better job against Columbia than we did earlier. Hopefully, that's a good sign for us."
Perhaps the most important step on the growth chart has already occurred. Clark speaks glowingly of his young teammates' willingness to embrace the grit and hard work that comes with contributing to an effective defensive team at this level.
"It's similar to what we went through when we came in as freshmen," he says. "Back then, we all came in with the idea that we would give it up for the team. Whatever the team needed, we were willing to do. We had great players who could score. The team needed guys like Dante, Dwayne and me to play hard, defend, and rebound.
"These guys are doing the same thing. They have listened to everything Coach and the captains have told them. They are giving it up for the team and that's one of the reasons why I am excited about the kind of team we can become."
One of the lessons Clark and Co. have tried to communicate to their younger brethren is the length of the season. The four-plus month ride often includes bumps to go with the peaks. Last year, for example, Villanova dropped its first two BIG EAST games and was preparing to face a potent Georgetown squad at the MCI Center on short rest. The Wildcats bounced back to post the win in a nationally televised battle with Clark draining four important free throws down the stretch on his way to 14 points.
"It's going to be a long season," he says. "We talk about that a lot and it's one reason why we try not to get too high or low. You have to be prepared because things don't always go the way you want them to."
Clark likes the bonds that have already formed between players and coaches though the group has been together less than six months.
"We get along real well," he says. "It's a fun group to be around."
Like his fellow captains, Clark did not enter Villanova as someone accustomed to taking the lead verbally in the locker room. As a teen, he seemed perfectly willing to figuratively stand in the shadow of his close pal, Kyle Lowry. Now, though, he is out front with classmates much like himself, men who always preferred to let their play speak for them.
"I have been enjoying it," he says. "It's definitely a new role for me. We have gotten a lot of help from the young guys and I like where we're at. We still have a lot of work to do and we know there are some tough games coming up."
It starts against La Salle at the Pavilion on Dec. 29 (7:00 p.m./ESPNU) and continues next week as BIG EAST play gets underway against DePaul on Jan. 3 and Pittsburgh on Jan. 6.
"It's been kind of like starting over," Clark says of the transition to a roster that looks much different from the one he first became a part of two years ago. "We all have new roles and we're starting to feel good about them. I can't wait to see what we can do as we go along."