There are many adjectives one can use to describe Gonzaga Bulldogs’ forward Brandon Clarke. Vehemently determined? Yes. Unequivocally selfless? Absolutely.
But what is undoubtedly clear is Clarke’s love and passion for the game of basketball. In Gonzaga’s 83-71 win over Baylor that advances the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16, Clarke put up 36 points, including five highlight-reel dunks. It sets an NCAA Tournament record for the program, recently held by Adam Morrisonn. Born and raised in Canada, Clarke couldn’t contain his enthusiasm about what lies ahead for the number one seeded Bulldogs.
“I was really locked in and focused tonight,” said Clarke. “If it wasn’t me, it was somebody else on the team making big shots, too. The shots fell easy for me tonight.”
Brandon Clarke Went From Canada to Division I Basketball
Before Brandon Clarke became a national sensation, he was born in the Canadian coastal city of Vancouver. While most Canadians learn how to skate or shoot a hockey puck, Clarke was moved down to Phoenix, Arizona at three years old. After a few years playing football, Brandon would divert his attention to becoming a quality basketball player.
At Desert Vista High School, Clarke began to blossom physically. Despite averaging a triple-double in his senior year, the forward did not receive the attention from perennial basketball programs. He settled on San Jose State, a decision that made his high school coach Tony Darden very proud.
“He was the man on that team and I think everybody knew it but him. It speaks to how modest he is as a kid and a player. You can still see that on the floor in how he shares the ball and sets screens,” stated Darden.
At San Jose State, Clarke shined. As a freshman, he was the Mountain West Conference’s Sixth-Man of the Year. He averaged 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks to earn first-team All-MWC and All-Defensive team honors as a sophomore. But the Spartans of San Jose State did not garner team success, unable to compete in the NCAA Tournament. When head coach Dave Wojcik resigned in July 2017, it left Brandon Clarke at a critical juncture.
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Brandon Clarke Makes Instant Impact for Gonzaga
If it weren’t for Coach Wojcik’s resignation, Brandon Clarke may have still been at San Jose State. As a result, Clarke transferred to Gonzaga, a program that had just recently made a run to the National Championship Game, only to lose to the North Carolina Tar Heels.
During his redshirt year, Bulldogs coach Mark Few preached that Clarke should focus on becoming a more consistent shooter. The 6’8 forward spent countless hours reshaping his shooting technique, in order to become a prolific shooter from inside the paint and beyond the arc.
Because of Killian Tillie’s foot injury, Clarke got substituted into the lineup. A star was instantly born. Clarke, alongside junior forward Rui Hachimura, form arguably the best frontcourt in college basketball. For the season, the rising star generated 17 PPG, 8.4 RPG, and 1.8 APG. Not only is Clarke’s offense effective, but also his shot-blocking ability, with an average of 3.1 blocks per game (ranked third in the country). To Bulldogs coach Mark Few, it was an outcome that he expected from the transfer.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised,” Few said. “We were with him all last year, so we knew that he had a real talent and what he was capable of doing. Pleasantly pleased with just how consistent he’s been and how he’s been able to deliver, not just on the defensive end but his offensive game has also grown.”
Believe the Brandon Clarke Hype
The full Brandon Clarke package was on display during Gonzaga’s blowout victory over Baylor on Saturday. The junior transfer showcased his offensive abilities, with a windmill slam dunk in the second half that sent Gonzaga on a scoring frenzy. Clarke also notched eight rebounds, two steals and increased his season blocks total to 110, which is the best in the nation.
For Clarke, having breakout performances in the NCAA Tournament serves as a reminder that the decision to transfer to the Gonzaga Bulldogs paid off.
“It’s been something that’s been really fun for me. This is easily the most fun I’ve had playing ball ever,” said Clarke. “So, I’m really blessed to have the chance to come here and to play for the Zags. Obviously, it was tough last year not playing. But it was something that was huge for me. It is something I wouldn’t change.”
The Bulldogs will take on the Florida State Seminoles in Anaheim for their Sweet 16 matchup. It will be a rematch of these two schools’ battle last year, where the Seminoles beat the Zags 75-60. As Coach Few affirms, he will need Brandon Clarke and the entire Gonzaga roster to be at their very best to beat a high-quality Florida State team.
“We will prepare like crazy,” said Few. “They had Duke beat at their place and played great all year. You have to beat really good teams to advance in this thing. So, we knew we were going to have to play somebody really good, and Florida State is no doubt that.”
From being born in Canada to now ranked behind Zion Williamson as one of the top NBA prospects in the country, there is no doubt that the meteoric rise of Brandon Clarke is impressive. But Clarke is relishing the opportunity to be competing for a National Championship with Gonzaga; a school now that has made five consecutive Sweet 16 appearances.
“It’s awesome to make our fifth straight Sweet 16. That is an amazing accomplishment that the players in this program have been able to execute and come through in the most pressure moments. And so very happy to be moving on and couldn’t be happier for Brandon,” exclaimed Mark Few.