The Clark men’s basketball team is fresh off last season’s playoff berth, with the start of the new season only two days away. But there’s a twist: out of 15 players, only one was on last year’s roster.
Ty Cleland was on the team last year, but did not play a single game due to an ACL injury. The West Linn native transferred from Santa Barbara City School after the 2014-15 basketball season.
“It would be a blessing to have two or three returners,” Cleland said. But Cleland said that the team has to work with what they have.
Although last season Clark lost to Whatcom 58 to 74 in the semifinals of the NWAC championship, Cleland says the team is fully invested in meeting the expectations and attitudes the coaches have set. “The first goal is always to win the League championship,” Cleland said.
Clark’s forward, Michael Hill Jr, believes that even though the team is new they can be a championship team. “That’s the goal. At the end of the day we want a ring,” Hill said.
Head coach Alex Kirk made the Penguins an NWAC championship team in 2015, but this season he said he finds himself facing a challenge that could put repeating that success on hold: “a brand new crop of guys.”
Kirk is used to having the stress of integrating new players into outgoing player roles, but admits that “It’s a difficult transition.” Kirk said the team’s goal is to meet the four “foundational pillars” that make up an enjoyable season: attitude, effort, focus and toughness, mentally, emotionally and physically. “It’s the culture we are trying to build,” Kirk said.
Point guard Surmon Neal is confident that this year’s team can repeat last year’s success and make it to the playoffs. He also said that the team had a strong desire to play. “If I had to use use one word to describe the team, it would definitely be hungry,” Neal said.
However, according to Hill, the team will need leaders to make Neal’s comments reality. “Certain guys have to step up and definitely take a leadership position,” Hill said. “Our guys that step up as leaders, I feel confident in.”
Neal said the players believe in their coach. “He won a championship years back, so he knows what it takes to win.”
Clark will face Pierce College in the opening game of the season Friday at 7 p.m. at the O’Connell Sports Center.