NORTH VANCOUVER — Jessica Clarke has cemented her position as one of the rising young stars of Canadian women’s basketball.
Being picked to an exclusive field of among the nation’s top 24 Grade 11-Grade 12 players for this past Sunday’s inaugural girls BioSteel All-Canadian showcase classic at the University of Toronto, the 6-foot-3 Grade 11 standout from North Vancouver’s St. Thomas Aquinas was easily one of the grittiest players on the floor in helping her White team to a decisive 112-78 win over the rival Red team in a game telecast nationally on TSN.
“It was very surreal,” said Clarke, who not only got the nod to start the game by taking its opening tip against Semiahmoo senior Faith Dut, but finished with eight points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
“I would never have imagined when I was young that I would ever be playing in that kind of a game,” continued Clarke who is getting solid next-level notice from Canadian universities as well as those from the larger NCAA Div. 1 conferences. “I was honoured to be recognized on the national level, and it was a super-unique experience.”
It might be on a smaller scale, yet Clarke will get yet another chance to thrive in an all-star setting on Thursday (6 p.m.) when she plays for the Lower Mainland in its annual clash with the Fraser Valley in the Grade 11-and-under Futures Classic at Port Coquitlam’s Riverside Secondary.
This past Sunday, surrounded by the best of the nation’s best, Clarke herself admitted her biggest case of pre-game butterflies came from wondering just how she was going to fit within what was sure to be an ultra-high tempo of play.
The verdict? No issues whatsoever.
“Leading up to the game, I was super nervous and I didn’t know if I would fit in with this style of play,” said the 16-year-old Clarke. “But then I actually started in the game, took the opening jump, and once the game started I settled in and I realized that I did fit in.”
Dut, the Florida signee, as well as Chillwack-G.W. Graham’s UFV-bound Deanna Tuchscherer, and South Kamloops’ UBC-bound Olivia Morgan-Cherchas brought B.C. representation to four in the contest.
Dut sunk an exquisite fading turnaround jumper, Morgan-Cherchas’ lateral movement in space was as good and as confident as she’s shown, and she knocked down an impressive medium-range jumper, while Tuchscherer took a kick-out pass and calmly drained a dead-eye three.
And Clarke, a full grade younger than the rest of the B.C. contingent?
She was every bit as impressive, so much so in fact, that former NBA first-round draft pick Leo Rautins, the game’s colour analyst, sang her praises throughout.
“Another name we haven’t mentioned as an MVP (candidate) is Jessica Clarke,” said Rautins to play-by-play man Rod Black, the pair back in the mid-to-late 1990s the national broadcast team on Vancouver Grizzlies telecasts. “She has been a workhorse around the hoop. I really like the way she runs the floor. You tell bigs all the time ‘If you can run and get position, you’re going to get a lot of easy baskets, a lot of easy rebounds.’”
Her ability to run the floor, and Clarke’s natural feel to fill space and see the entire floor made her look as multi-dimensional as she ever has.
And none of that escaped the eye of her STA head coach John Prescott.
“The speed at which she plays, the ability to get up and down the court and then just thinking the game,” Prescott confirmed when asked what impressed him most about Clarke’s performance. “She was getting into logical places and she was able to pick up on the speed of the game right away.”
For the purist, there were so many things to like about the way Clarke played, beginning with a clean, quick bullet feed in the half court to Calgary native and UCLA-bound Brynn Masikewich for an early lay-up.
Her vision, the kind which did more than suggest how effective she will be as a next-level passer out of the high post, was clearly on display in the game’s third quarter.
Clarke won possession of the ball in a scramble, and instead of automatically heaving up an off-balance shot from close quarters, she held the ball for a split second then sent an over-head rocket into the deep paint, perfectly in flow with the cutter, star guard Aaliyah Edwards, for an easy lay-in.
From a scoring standpoint, her most impressive hoop came with 2:50 remaining in the game when she came to a jump stop, then reverse pivoted in the deep block for a lay-up. Other baskets came off a hard cut to the hoop, and with her old-school hook shot.
And Clarke did it all in style.
In fact if you ask her about the shoes she donned for the game, they have become a very special keepsake.
For some reason, the special advance Nike Kevin Durant ‘KD 12’ shoes all of the BioSteel girls players received were of the wrong size, except for the ones Clarke got.
“Everybody was supposed to wear them but mine were the only ones that fit,” said Clarke of the shoe which isn’t even available to the public until Saturday. “I am normally a men’s 11.5, and these were 12s but they fit small, so that was nice. It was very cool to be able to wear them.”
The rest of the team was outfitted in the Kobe AD shoe.
“Jessica has put in so much work, so I think she is thrilled to see that all of that hard work is paying off,” said Prescott, who next season will welcome back Clarke, fellow forward Gemma Cutler, and point guard Caelan Prescott, his daughter, as the core of the Fighting Saints.
“Literally, Jessica’s game started at the rim and it has moved back,” continued Prescott who has worked with her since the fourth grade. “She’s now an effective mid-range player with a jumper and game around that. Our goal for the next year is to increase that range out to the three-point line and develop her play in the open court.”
Both Clarke and Cutler will represent St. Thomas Aquinas in Thursday’s Futures game. Britannia’s Surprise Munie and Shemaiah Abatayo, and R.A. McMath’s Liz Kennedy and Marina Radocaj are among the others taking part.
The Fraser Valley team is filled with blue-chip guards like Marin Lenz (Abbotsford), Sammy Shields (Riverside), Deja Lee (Semiahmoo) and Makenna Gardner (Langley Christian).
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