At St. Peter's, Clark makes a good point

Just 5 feet 9, point guard leads Division I scorers with 27-point average

National notebook

March 05, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Keydren Clark gave notice that he was more than a typical freshman point guard in his third college game at Saint Peter's last season, scoring 48 points with 10 three-point shots against Northern Arizona.

When he backed it up with 44 more against St. Francis (N.Y.) in his next game - hitting 17 of 19 free throws - Clark's cover was blown. He finished the season averaging 24.9 points a game, sixth in the country.

"At the point guard position I was able to do a little bit more than when I playing the 2 [shooting guard] in high school," Clark said earlier this week from the Jersey City, N.J., school.

But Bob Leckie knew from watching Clark play for the famed Riverdale Hawks AAU team that the 5-foot-9, 167-pound guard from Manhattan could handle the point.

"I had a scorer in different facets of the game," said Leckie, who, as a high school coach in Brooklyn, first saw Clark when he played at Rice High School, a New York powerhouse. "Not only could he shoot from the outside, but he had the ability to get to the basket and score off the foul line and also get his teammates involved. I'm not a dumb coach, so I let him play."

But hardly anyone paid attention to what Clark was doing last year when the Peacocks won just 10 games. What Clark is about to accomplish this season is something worth noting: With a 27-point average, Clark is about to become the first player under 6 feet to lead the country in scoring since Kevin Houston at Army in 1987.

More importantly, Clark has led Saint Peter's back to respectability. A team that won just four games the year before he arrived will take a 16-11 record into the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.

"I'm just trying to get a MAAC championship and whatever comes along with it I'm happy with," Clark said. "Winning is what it's all about. If you don't win, people are going to look at it as, `Yeah, he got a lot of individual accolades, but he never won.' "

Not that it's always easy for Clark, or for Leckie.

"I actually have some players on this team that feel that if they had the same opportunities as Keydren Clark did, they could lead the nation in scoring," said Leckie, who played at Saint Peter's during the late 1960s. "If they went into the gym with the lights on by themselves, they couldn't win it."

Don't expect Clark to follow in the footsteps of Jason Conley, who three years ago led the country in scoring at VMI and then transferred to Missouri during the middle of his sophomore season. Clark has kept up to date about Conley's struggles this season with the Tigers, but that's not the main reason he'll stay put.

Clark's mother, Rosie, has worked as a hotel desk manager in New Jersey since losing her job as a flight attendant at Continental Airlines after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and attends most of her only child's games with a contingent of two dozen family members and friends. They're difficult not to notice.

"They're the loudest people in the gym," he said.

Nor is Clark unhappy about the level of competition. "I made a decision to come to Saint Peter's, and that's where I wanted to be," he said. "Those schools that overlooked me are now just regretting that they overlooked a kid who had the talent to play at the next level."

Clark, a business manager major, hopes to pursue a master's degree in education, but he wouldn't mind putting that off to follow other small legends such as Earl Boykins and Muggsy Bogues into the NBA.

"Muggsy Bogues had a 14-year career in the NBA. I just use that as motivation for me going into every game, every night," said Clark. "Maybe if I keep playing the way I'm playing, I can have a future at the next level."

Sixth sense

Gerald Fitch has had his share of ups and downs during his Kentucky career, but the senior guard seems to be finishing up in Lexington with a new role and a new perspective.

After coming back from a sprained index finger on his shooting hand that forced him to miss three games, Fitch has been coming off the bench for the Wildcats. Not only that, he doesn't want coach Tubby Smith to replace Antwain Barbour.

"I'd advise coach to keep the lineup the same," said Fitch, who last week scored 23 off the bench against LSU and had 16 in Wednesday's win over South Carolina. "Hopefully they can keep it going and I can come out of nowhere."

The 22-4 Wildcats have won five straight games and eight of their past nine.

Extra, extra

Ohio University will have to win the Mid-American Conference tournament to extend its season, but the Bobcats have had plenty of extra time on the court this season. Five of their games have gone into overtime, including identical 64-63 losses recently to Miami of Ohio and Butler.

Planting seeds

The Sun's final predictions for the top four seeds in each regional of the NCAA tournament:

East ................................. Midwest

1. Saint Joseph's ............. 1. Kentucky

2. Pittsburgh .................. 2. Connecticut

3. Florida ......................... 3. Okla. State

4. Wake Forest ................ 4. Georgia Tech

South .............................. West

1. Duke ............................ 1. Stanford

2. Miss. State .................. 2. Providence

3. Texas ........................... 3. Gonzaga

4. Illinois ......................... 4. N. Carolina

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