This was originally published in The Athletic.
There are very few figures in the history of the University of Cincinnati’s basketball program as revered by Bearcat fans as Gary Clark.
Clark was not a statistically superior player by any means, nor did his career accompany postseason success that will reverberate well beyond his time with the program. He wasn’t an outsized brand or a quote machine, and for all of the considerable accomplishments, his game had the sparkle of a wet firecracker.
What he was, was a worker. A picture of consistency, both with his effort and his output. It always seemed like Clark could do everything on the court, mainly because what he couldn’t do, he didn’t. He could score, he could rebound, and my God, could he defend. He was rewarded accordingly, with piles of individual accolades and even if Gary’s senior season ended a few games earlier than everyone hoped, he was the best and toughest player on one of the best and toughest basketball teams the school has ever had.
That’s not why Gary Clark is held in such regard. OK, so it helps that he scored a bunch of points, grabbed a ton of rebounds and stopped lots of dudes on other teams, but the reasons why most of us fell so hard for him had as much to do with what he is as a human compared to what he was as a college basketball player.
Humble. Respectful. Hard-working. His former coaches would say he was capable of being coached. How good of a guy was Gary Clark? The biggest criticism I ever heard levied against him by Mick Cronin – who is as unafraid of being critical as Gary was playing against bigger opponents – was that maybe, at times, Gary was a little too nice.
Clark was, and still is, easy to root for, and over the course of a wildly successful four-year UC career, became the face of the program, the poster child for what Bearcats basketball had come to symbolize. Maybe the NCAA Tournament wins weren’t as voluminous as other programs, and sure, Mick could say and do some things that were cringe-worthy or eye-roll-inducing. But whatever nitpicks there were, you had to admit that the same head coach who brought Clark, Sean Kilpatrick, Troy Caupain, Jacob Evans, Kevin Johnson, Cashmere Wright, Justin Jackson and Tre Scott to Cincinnati was at least very good at recruiting players who knew how to best represent themselves and their school.
Hopefully one day I’ll include Zach Harvey’s name with those other guys.
To read the entire piece, go to The Athletic.