The question was simple enough, but Sylvester Clarke couldn't have been prepared for the answer.
"He asked me what I wanted him to do this year," recalled Anne Arundel Community College basketball coach Mike Tummings. "I told him a little bit of everything."
And that's precisely what Clarke has done for the Pioneers, who began play yesterday in the Maryland JuCo Tournament.
He has scored, rebounded, passed and played defense. And he has worked hard.
He went into yesterday's first-round game against Prince George's CC averaging 16 points, second on the team to Aderio Jones. But more impressive, the 5-foot-10 swingman ranks second among JuCo players in rebounding with 13.
"He's one of the quickest players I've ever seen at getting off the ground. He's so quick that taller people don't get a chance to react," said Tummings, who uses Clarke to jump center on the opening tap.
"The first time I saw him, I said, 'Gee, for a little guy he sure gets off the ground.' Sometimes I'm leery of a kid who can jump but is so small. They're usually deficient in other areas. But he's a legitimate three-point threat, though we don't ask him to take a lot of those, and he leads our defensive charge. He picks up our defensive intensity."
He does all of this while playing out of position. The Pioneers are small, often using three guards, and Clarke is positioned down low, giving up a lot of inches but little else.
"It's frustrating at times. You tend to get banged around a lot, but that's part of the game," he said.
"Being close to the basket gives me a better chance to get the ball, though."
Clarke, 20, didn't come to Anne Arundel looking for the ball. Having graduated from Noxubee County High School in Macon, Miss. in 1992, he moved here -- where his four brothers live -- seeking a job, not jump shots. He worked for more than a year as an ice cream vendor, then enrolled at Anne Arundel to major in business management.
"It was always a dream of mine to play college basketball, and I made the team, but just barely," he said. "I didn't do well in the tryouts, but the coach said he saw something in me."
Clarke didn't play much as a freshman, but his patience was rewarded.
While the Pioneers struggled during the first half of this season, losing nine of their first 12 games, Clarke excelled. He scored 18 points and pulled down 19 rebounds in a loss to Dundalk CC Dec. 5, then seemed to go out of his way to top himself.
Against Essex CC: 28 points and 18 rebounds. Against Cecil CC: 24 points and 13 rebounds. Against Frederick CC: 27 points. Against Charles CC: 23 points and 17 rebounds. Against Catonsville CC: 28 points and 13 rebounds.
The Feb. 3 loss to the Cardinals was Clarke's last regular-season game. He missed two the previous month because of a right wrist injury, and the last three due to a reoccurrence of the ailment.
"We're not the kind of team that can afford to lose someone like that," Tummings had said in January.
And Clarke, who lives with his brother, Charles, in Brooklyn Park, isn't the kind of player who wants to sit.
"It was real disappointing, real depressing. But I have to put my health first," he said.
His value to the program was evident in a Jan. 5 loss to nationally ranked Hagerstown JC. Clarke had scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds before leaving with his third foul with 9:53 remaining in the first half. The Pioneers were down by four at the time, but without Clarke they quickly fell out of contention and were beaten, 119-78.
After that, the Pioneers won eight of their last 14 regular-season games, with two losses coming in Clarke's absence.
"It's been very satisfying, very rewarding, to turn the season around. It's been exciting. We've been working hard and it pays off," he said.
Clarke is being looked at by some Division II and III schools, where he probably would be used at shooting guard. He will be at a size disadvantage, but that's nothing new.
"He has to work on his ball-handling over the summer," Tummings said, "but I think he's going to be a pretty decent player at the next level."