2.24.2011

A Defense Of Rotnei Clarke


I used to write more often about Razorback sports; I’m not entirely sure why I quit doing that, maybe because I thought most of my half dozen readers didn’t care. Nevertheless, ultimately I write about things that interest me, regardless of whether or not others care. Anyway, I wrote this the other day on a message board, so I thought I might as well re-post it.

I can't believe this is even necessary, but after reading some recent posts on a message board, I think it is. Certain Arkansas Razorback fans never cease to amaze me (and not in a good way).

Despite the fact that Rotnei Clarke has been the best and most consistent player on the Razorback basketball team this year, some people seem intent on criticizing him. Let’s tackle some of the ridiculous things people say about Rot one by one, shall we?

(1) Rotnei Clarke is not an SEC caliber player.

Admittedly, this is not the criticism that you see most often, but people have said it more than once. But let's be clear, it’s absolutely ridiculous.

I guarantee that there are 11 head coaches in the SEC besides John Pelphrey who think that Rotnei is good enough for this league and would love to have him on their team. That doesn’t mean that he would be their go-to guy or necessarily even start, but any team in the league would love to have him and would give him lots of minutes.

You can hear the ways that guys like Jimmy Dykes and Mark Gottfried (guys who know SEC talent when they see it) talk about him when they cover games. He’s not the greatest player in the world and he has limitations, but he absolutely is good enough to play in the SEC.

(2) Rotnei Clarke is overrated.

You hear this a lot more often, although it’s related to the first. But here’s the basic flaw: in order to be overrated, you pretty much either have to be rated very highly, or you have to be terrible. The problem is, Rotnei is neither of these things. He’s certainly not terrible, but at the same time, even if you look at people who support Clarke, no one is claiming that he’s a remarkable player!

I haven’t seen anyone make the claim that Rotnei is a sure lottery pick or that he’s an All-American. I really haven’t seen anyone say that he’s the type of player you build your team around. What people tend to say is that Clarke is a player of limited athletic ability who is a good shooter and who isn’t utilized very well by our current coach.

But none of that makes him overrated, because no one is claiming that he’s the next Michael Jordan (or even J.J. Redick!).

(3) Rotnei Clarke is one-dimensional.

The knock here is that, supposedly, all Rotnei can do is shoot, and even that he can’t do if you stick and even decent defender on him.

The thing is, if you’ve really watched Rot play, you know that, while not exactly LeBron James, he actually possesses a solid all-around skill set. Not only is he the best shooter on the team, he’s also the best passer, and unfortunately, he’s one of our better rebounders despite being 6’0” (if that).

Also, we tend to forget this, but coming out of high school, Rotnei was not primarily touted as a shooter; he was hailed as a great scorer. And you can see that when he’s on his game—Clarke is capable of putting the ball on the floor and scoring in a variety of ways. The problem is that Pelphrey’s offense the past 3 seasons has relegated him into being a guy than runs literally miles each game trying to get open for 3s. Rotnei is a great three point shooter, one of the best in Arkansas history, but he’s at his most effective when he’s not just a three point shooter.

Sometimes, posters on here will compare Rotnei to Pat Bradley or Lee Humphrey in an effort to describe his skill set (and usually do so to pay Clarke a compliment). No offense to Bradley or Humphrey, who were very good players, but if you’ve actually watched all three play, you know that Clarke is a significantly better all-around player. You think for a second that if Rot got to play four years next to Kareem Reid, the UA’s all-time leader in assists, or had Humphrey’s luxury of being the fifth option on his team that he wouldn’t get more quality looks or shoot for a higher percentage?

Instead, consider Rotnei’s circumstances. Last year, once Courtney Fortson returned from suspsension, Clarke was surrounded by 3 fairly legitimate scoring threats: Fortson, Marshawn Powell and Mike Washington (in that order). Now Fortson and Washington are gone and Powell 2.0 has, for whatever reason, been a pale imitation of his former self. You don’t think Rotnei’s job is harder this year?

Despite that, Rotnei is our leading scorer and is shooting a career best 44% from behind the arc.

(4) Rotnei Clarke is a terrible defensive player.

This is may be the most popular criticism, but it still isn’t quite valid.

Let’s be clear: Rotnei is small and not particularly quick, and he is never going to be a great defender. But if you actually watch him closely, you see that he is a fundamentally sound defender. If he gets the task of guarding a bigger or quicker player he’s going to struggle, but if you give him someone of even remotely comparable athleticism, Clarke does a fine job because he has quick hands, plays hard, and blocks out.

Summary

The knocks that you constantly hear about Rotnei are all pretty much bogus and I, for one, am tired of reading the same tired nonsense over and over.

Furthermore, before knocking Rotnei, stop to think about this: in what is arguably the lowest and worst three year period in Hogs Hoops history, Rotnei has been a consistent bright spot. Despite the fact that his talents seem to be largely mismanaged by the coaching staff, he still puts up numbers and is the one player that opposing teams consistently have to game plan for.

What about his attitude? Marshawn Powell, who everyone loved last year, has caught a lot of flack this year for seeming to play with a lack of fire at times. Most don’t think that Powell is a bad guy, but that problems with Pelphrey have worn down his attitude.

What about Rotnei? Amidst constant season-ending rumors that he’s considering a transfer and a questionable suspension at the beginning of this season, it seems safe to say that Rotnei hasn’t always been incredibly happy here. Has any of that ever affected his attitude in any visible way? Have you ever seen Rotnei not give his best on the court?

If you’re fair at all, you really have to look hard at Rotnei Clarke to find something to complain about. Sure he messes up and deserves some blame sometimes (like at the end of the Alabama game when he forced some shots), but on the whole, it’s stupid to point fingers at him.

Over the last three years, there's been an awful lot that was wrong with our basketball team/program; Rotnei Clarke has been the one consistent thing that has been right.
I posted this on Tuesday; somewhat satisfyingly, Rotnei scored 26 points Wednesday night to lead the Razorbacks to victory against Kentucky for the first time in 10 seasons.

8 comments:

Colby 2/24/11, 8:36 PM  

I'd never heard Rotnei Clarke's name until today, but now I have to go research him just to argue with you.

brb

Luke 2/27/11, 4:40 PM  

I would expect nothing less!

Colby 3/1/11, 12:31 AM  

Ok, I give up. Rotnei Clarke is the best player on your team.

Luke 3/2/11, 10:13 AM  

I knew you'd see it my way…

Angela 3/3/11, 6:31 PM  

My biggest complaint is that his name is spelled ROTNEI.

Luke 3/4/11, 12:08 PM  

Ha, I agree with that…I don't know what his parents were thinking.

James Mears 6/23/11, 8:48 AM  

Superbly structured argument throughout except for this profoundly weak comment:
" if you give him someone of even remotely comparable athleticism, Clarke does a fine job because he has quick hands, plays hard, and blocks out."

If you give any player someone with comparable athleticism....blah blah.

Come on...he is a weak link on defense.

Luke 6/25/11, 10:51 AM  

James,

Thanks for the comment.

Clarke certainly is not a lock-down defender and never will be, but the point I was making is that he's not a terrible defender and is not as bad as he is made out to be. For example, he got much less abused defensively this past season than Marshawn Powell did, and you don't hear people complaining about Powell being the "weak link".

Furthermore, the statement I made, "if you give him someone of even remotely comparable athleticism, Clarke does a fine job because he has quick hands, plays hard, and blocks out," is not a "profoundly weak" argument at all.

Gary Payton is one of the all-time best defensive guards in the NBA. Have him try to guard LeBron James though, and he'd be woefully exposed because of his inferior size, strength, and athleticism.

The argument is even more magnified with someone like Clarke, who is incredibly short, and not particularly strong or athletic. If you try to have him guard someone like Ole Miss’s Chris Warren, Clarke gets exposed (but so does virtually every other guard in the SEC because Warren is ridiculously quick). If you have Rotnei guard someone who's not an All-SEC caliber offensive player or who isn't 6'5", he does a fine job.

I hate that he decided to transfer and think it was a foolish decision—the upcoming season is less promising without him.

Thanks again for your comment.

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