Hotshot Clark revels in limelight

Basketball: Milford Mill's Mandakova Clark brings all the right moves to the court. Her goals: a state title this weekend, then a successful career at Rutgers, and hopefully in the WNBA.


Spin moves to the hoop. No-look passes. Nothing-but-net 20-footers. Pick-your-pocket steals.

Milford Mill's Mandakova Clark knows how to dazzle a crowd as well as an opponent. Over the last couple of years, Clark has become almost as much entertainer as athlete.

"I like to play in front of a big crowd," said Clark, a 5-foot-8 senior. "That gets me pumped up. I know a lot of people come just to watch me, but I can't do anything but go out there and play and give them whatever they're looking for."

The showmanship certainly hasn't hurt her game. Clark averages 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the state tournament-bound Millers. Even more remarkably, she shoots 56 percent from the field.

Still, Clark's stats, as impressive as they are, aren't what's selling tickets.

"She's been good for Baltimore basketball," said Seton Keough coach Jim Stromberg, "because some of the stuff she does, you don't see a lot of girls doing.

"When you look at the other teams, they have some good players, but they don't bring a lot of excitement to the game on a daily basis the way Mandy does. In my mind, she's the most exciting player to watch because you never know what she's going to do next."

What Clark wants to do next is bring Milford Mill its first state girls basketball championship.

The No. 8 Millers, state finalists the past two years, face Thomas Stone in the Class 3A semifinal at 9 tonight at UMBC.

The state title is all that has eluded the Millers since Clark transferred from Woodlawn for her junior year.

Two weeks ago, Clark's 25 points paced the Millers to their fifth straight Baltimore County championship, 64-43, over No. 15 Catonsville.

In the Comets' gym that night, a few teen-aged Catonsville fans taunted Clark, especially during the first half. She answered by scoring 11 straight points and 19 of the Millers' first 23 points, including three three-pointers.

"I just play along," said Clark, 17. "I like to talk to them. They say you can't do this and you can't do that and then I do something and everybody's, `boo, boo.' They're fine. They get me pumped up."

The Milford Mill-Catonsville rivalry has evolved into an intense, almost bitter one, but Clark has done some of her best work against the Comets. In last year's 74-58 Class 3A North region quarterfinal victory, she hit 16 of 29 shots from the field, including eight three-pointers, for 42 points.

The hecklers in the crowd aren't the only ones Clark talks to. She's always got something to say to the opponent trying to guard her.

"She's not arrogant about it or disrespectful to the other players or coaches. She's just saying, `Show me that you're better and if not, I'm not going to be quiet,' " said Wardell Selby, who coached Clark with the AAU Baltimore Cougars last summer. "It's just something different that a lot of coaches haven't seen. I don't have any problem with it."

Neither does Stromberg, who has coached against Clark on the high school and AAU levels.

"I don't think she's mean-spirited in any way," he said. "It sometimes gets to the other kids, but that's part of the game. She brings out the best in everyone she plays. They want to beat her, because she is the best."

Clark was a preseason All-America honorable mention in Street & Smith's, and she has been selected to play in the Phoenix/Women's Basketball Coaches Association High School All-America Game at noon, April 8 in Hartford, Conn. The game will be televised live on ESPN2. Later this month, she will be featured in a spotlight segment on the Black Entertainment Television network.

Although Clark plays with attitude, "She's not a cocky player," said Milford Mill coach Pam Wright. "Mandy doesn't even give herself the credit she deserves."

Talk to Clark about her game and she's quick to steer the conversation toward her team and how much the young Millers have grown this season.

"It's nice to know people come out to watch me play, but if they do, they'll see a lot more, because we have a good team," said Clark.

Clark arrived at Milford Mill in the fall of 1998, transferring to take advantage of Milford's allied health magnet program. She didn't have the confidence in her game that she has today.

As a sophomore at Woodlawn, she was already drawing comparisons to Nikki Teasley, an All-America guard at St. John's-Prospect Hall in Frederick and now a senior starter at North Carolina.

At Milford last year, her game came together. The flashy moves looked even better as part of a consistent, well-rounded game.

Most of the time, Clark's spectacular moves result in a basket or an assist. Even when they don't, Wright isn't worried.

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