Favorite athlete: Ben Simmons
Favorite team: Golden State Warriors
Favorite memory competing in sports: Going down to play on Temple’s floor last year, making it down there and playing in front of a bunch of people.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: When the floor was extra slippery and I tried to run and I couldn’t get up – I was slipping and sliding everywhere for at least 10 seconds straight. I couldn’t move. Coaches and teammates were laughing at me.
Music on mobile device: Hip Hop
Future plans: Going to La Salle on a basketball scholarship. Hopefully, my basketball career takes me past that.
Words to live by: “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” –Kevin Durant
One goal before turning 30: If I don’t make it as a pro, then start up my own business or in the midst of doing that.
One thing people don’t know about me: I played the violin and piano for the majority of my life.
By Ed Morrone
Suffering a major injury in the middle of a senior season might cause the immature to fade away from the program the rest of the year, especially if a college commitment to a storied Division-I program was already in tow.
Luckily for the Cheltenham High School basketball program, Jack Clark represents the antithesis of immaturity.
Clark, a 6-foot-7 guard and the Panthers’ best player for the past two seasons, was prepared for a magical senior season. Not long before Cheltenham played its first game on the 2017-18 schedule, Clark, buoyed by a six-inch growth spurt his junior year, announced his commitment to continue his basketball career close to home in the Big 5 at La Salle University. He was also on a collision course with the 1,000-point milestone for his career, and Clark was hoping to lead the Panthers back to the state tournament, where one year prior he had scored a star-turning 32 points in an opening-round game against Emmaus.
That trajectory changed in late January, when Clark landed awkwardly on the court following a dunk in a game. Thinking it was initially a bone bruise that would force him to miss two or three weeks at most, Clark later discovered he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Just like that, his senior season was finished. There would be no 1,000 points, and Cheltenham would ultimately be one-and-done in the district tournament.
Despite the injury that prematurely ended Clark’s high school career, he was still in attendance for every Panthers’ practice and game thereafter in support of his teammates.
“I’m a captain of the team, and being supportive of your team is the number one responsibility of a captain,” Clark said. “It’s my job to offer leadership advice and support to my teammates, even if I’m not playing. They’ve been supportive of me since I got hurt, and I’m going to do the same for them.”
Clark said he was down in the dumps for a week or two following the diagnosis, but quickly shifted his focus to attacking his rehabilitation full throttle following surgery to repair the knee on Feb. 16. Cheltenham head coach John Timms said that Clark’s ability to shake the injury off and move forward, rather than dwell on it and remain in a perpetual state of dejection, is just reflective of the player’s personality.
“He just kind of said, ‘Hey, it happened, now I’ve got to move forward and think about my rehab,’” Timms said. “He came to every practice and game to encourage his teammates, which I think was healthy for him. We were more hurt for him than he was for himself, because he understood that life goes on.”
The son of a coach, Clark has been playing basketball for as long as he could remember. Clark was drawn to the competitive nature of the sport, as well as how much work he had to put in away from team practices and games in order to elevate his game to the next level.
Timms recalled seeing Clark for the first time as an eighth grader at Cedarbrook Middle School, referring to the future Division-I recruit as a “string bean looking kid” who was “shooting jump shots like a modern-day Reggie Miller.” Timms knew right then and there that Clark was a pure shooter who could connect from anywhere on the court; however, even as Clark got to high school, he still didn’t possess the height he does now, so the learning curve in the Suburban One League was steep.
Despite having high expectations for himself entering Cheltenham, Clark played JV all of his freshman year, save for one varsity game in which he scored 12 points against Academy of the New Church. Clark alternated between JV and varsity his sophomore season, and even considered transferring, as he was stuck behind multiple upperclassmen for playing time. Timms wanted to see Clark become a better ball handler and defender in order to become a part of the regular rotation; luckily for the coach, instead of transferring, Clark stayed put, challenging himself to get stronger by retaining the services of a personal trainer.
Once Clark got beyond those obstacles, he was off to the races whene his junior campaign arrived. He was aided by a very opportune growth spurt, sprouting from 6-foot-2 to his current stature of 6-foot-7 in the course of three or four months. As soon as that happened, the Division-I offers started pouring in, and Clark’s confidence skyrocketed.
“My game changed drastically, in a good way,” he said. “I could see over defenders, and I had a lot more confidence driving to the basket to shoot floaters or dunk the ball. It just gave me more confidence overall in what I was able to do. On the defensive end, my extra length helped me challenge bigger kids on the backboard, or I could give guards an extra arm’s length and recover fast enough if I did get beat.”
Clark’s junior season was his official coming out party. As the No. 8 seed in the Class 6A district tournament, Clark helped Cheltenham advance all the way to Temple University before falling to Coatesville in the semifinals. The Panthers qualified for the state tournament, and although they lost by one point to Emmaus in the opening round, Clark scored 32 points. Six months or so later, he announced his commitment to La Salle.
Timms recalled Clark’s final three games of his junior season as the turning point. Against Plymouth Whitemarsh in the third-place game following the Coatesville loss, Clark was going chest-to-chest with PW 7-footer Naheem McLeod and executing backdoor dunks. Against Emmaus, a team that boasted twin brothers and college-bound guards David and Matt Kachelries, Clark asserted himself as a major Division-I prospect.
“His recruiting went from maybe converting him to a point guard at a Division-II school to getting nothing but Division-I calls,” Timms said. “We saw in that game against Emmaus that he was a better college prospect than those twins, who are very, very good. You can’t coach height, and as a 6-foot-7 guard he could shoot over people without many of the shots being contested.”
Clark is facing a 9- to 12-month rehab from the torn ACL, and there has been consideration for him to redshirt his freshman season at La Salle, although nothing has been decided yet. He’s been in constant contact with La Salle coaches since he got hurt, and the university has been very supportive in the wake of the injury.
Clark believes he’ll come back as good as he was before the knee injury, if not better. He said there will be a mental component in returning from injury, having to retrain his mind to feel comfortable cutting and exploding on the knee. Such a major injury can mess with an athlete’s psyche in the early stages.
“My mindset has just been attacking the rehab and exercises the therapists are giving me,” he said. “I’m focused on getting myself back to where I was before the injury, or even better than that. It was a sad time for me for a week or so because I thought I bruised a bone, not an injury with 9-12 months of recovery. It’s not a good thing that I got hurt, but I think it’s good in the sense that it’s going to help prepare me more for the next level and get my legs even stronger.”
After his junior year, there was no doubt Clark would be playing for a Division-I program somewhere, but the fact that he ended up at La Salle, 15 minutes from his front door and a plethora of supportive family and friends, can certainly be filed under best-case scenario. Clark used the word ‘family’ a lot when explaining his decision to commit to La Salle, and it becomes clear in talking to him how sacred he holds the concept of family, both toward his basketball brothers and his blood relatives.
“At Cheltenham games, everybody knows where my family sits to the point where the seats are basically reserved,” he said. “My parents, grandparents and friends all sit diagonal to half court. Family is important to me in many ways, and I want to have them there watching me play the next four years. They’ve had my back through all of this.”
Timms said he tries to foster a family environment within the Cheltenham program, and Clark fit right into that dynamic. It will only help Clark having his family nearby to lean on as he rehabs from injury and eventually suits up for La Salle, be it this coming season or the one that follows.
“His parents, grandparents and friends come to every game, and that matters to Jack,” Timms said. “That support will be needed, because doubters will be there. People will say he’s not as good as advertised because he came out of nowhere, so it was imperative for him to stay close where his family could get to his games.”
Timms was also thrilled to see Clark commit to La Salle and would have been ecstatic wherever Clark decided to go. However, getting a player to a local Big 5 school was something of a white whale for Timms, who had gotten players committed to major Division-I programs while he was the head coach at Friends Central (Amile Jefferson to Duke, for example), but always wanted to place one into one of the storied local big-time programs.
“This is why we get into this,” Timms said. “Anytime I can help a kid get secondary education for free is a win, but Jack staying home to go to La Salle is icing on the cake. I’ve never delivered a local Division-I team a kid, and I can’t express in words what I felt for Jack in committing to a Big 5 school.
“When he walks out there to fulfill his dreams at La Salle, he’s going to see how Philly embraces him for making the decision to stay home. I’m so excited for him to get the opportunity to ride the roller coaster of college basketball; they won’t all be good days. Some days he’ll want to go home and think he’s not cut out for it, but that experience is unmatched.”
Clark said he’s not sure what he wants to major in yet, though he stated the fields of business and sports management both interest him on the surface. The son of a mom who is a school principal, Clark said his parents won’t accept anything less than B’s, so he’s continued to challenge himself in the classroom even after announcing his commitment to La Salle.
When he’s not playing basketball or focusing on his rehab, Clark likes to spend time with his family, especially his grandparents, squeezing in the backseat of the car to hang out with them at their house any chance he gets. He also is a member of a group called Jack & Jill, an African American-based organization that puts together canned food drives and community service projects to help the less fortunate.
As far as future basketball goals — besides getting back healthy from his injury — Clark has ambitions to play professionally one day. With his size, it’s hard to blame him, and plenty of La Salle players have made it to NBA or pro leagues overseas.
“Going to the NBA or overseas would be nice,” he said. “But honestly, I was so close to getting to 1,000 points at Cheltenham before I got hurt that I would like to be able to carry that over to La Salle one day. I also never won an SOL or district title, so I’d also love to win an Atlantic 10 championship and get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Clark will miss the camaraderie he experienced at Cheltenham, especially the constant stream of laughter and jokes he shared with his teammates and coaches.
“He jokes and takes jokes so well,” Timms said. “He can go 1-for-5 from three in a game, and I’ll ask him if he was trying to build a house out there. He’ll look at me, smile and tell me he was trying to build two. His being able to acknowledge his mistakes and not take himself too seriously is what I’ll miss about him the most.
“I look at him as an extension of my family. We understand each other, and it was a relationship I respect deeply. He’s got a great spirit and reminds me of my sons. Being his coach has warmed my heart.”