Raiquan Clark, the walk-on who took the NEC by storm

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Raiquan Clark
Raiquan Clark

Raiquan Clark is a scoring extraordinaire, leading both his high school and college teams to championships while sitting atop of their scoring charts. Naysayers will maintain that scoring a basketball is an easy task, and at times it is, yet when you’re playing in front of 20,000 fans with the game on the line, making a basket can seem impossible. Only the most animalistic of scorers can dominate when the pressure is on. Allowing their natural talent and muscle memory to take the wheel, the best scorers have a short-term memory, and their focus never wavers beyond the possession at hand.

Muscles learn through repetition and countless hours spent refining techniques over multiple years. For Raiquan, his story began in 6th grade when his competitive nature first began to surface.

“I remember when I was in the 6th grade, one of my classmates told me I couldn’t make his AAU team. So, from there, I tried out for his team, and I didn’t make it, so I started working on my game from there. That’s how I ended up loving basketball”.

The fire within him had been stoked, the failure to participate in that year’s AAU tournament, put Raiquan on a lifelong journey of self-reflection and improvement. It wasn’t long until Raiquan Clark would get his first taste of competitive organized basketball, however, as he quickly found himself suiting up for James Hillhouse high school based in New Haven, Connecticut.

Throughout his four years at James Hillhouse, Raiquan achieved multiple feats of success, both individually and collectively. Raiquan helped Hillhouse win a Southern Connecticut Conference (SCC) Hammonasset Division championship, was a Two-time New Haven Register All-Area selection and an All-SCC Hammonasset Division selection. Furthermore, Raiqauan put up some lofty numbers as a senior, averaging 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game as a senior.

Raiquan Clark

Shockingly, despite his senior year’s success on paper, Raiquan looks back on that season with disappointment. During his junior year, Raiquan had begun to receive attention from multiple division one colleges with stellar reputations. Yet, Raiquan’s senior year failed to entice those colleges into making him a firm scholarship offer.

“After my state championship game in my junior year, I heard from North Carolina AT, Providence, and a couple of other schools. And then I would say I didn’t have a great senior year; I did get All-State, All-Area and First team, however, I would still say I didn’t have a great year. I had two high ankle sprains before the season started, knee issues, it wasn’t a great year for me.”

With no offers on the table to make the jump to the collegiate ranks, Raiquan decided to spend an undergraduate year at Trinity-Pawling prep school. Despite impressing during his one-and-done year with Trinity-Pawling, Raiquan would again find himself without a scholarship at the end of the season.

“Even after prep school, I didn’t have a scholarship.”

Raiquan Clark

The universe works in mysterious ways, however, as Raiquan eventually learned of an opportunity to try-out for a walk-on position with LIU University from an opposing team’s coach.

“I really didn’t know what a walk-on was. I was like, “Mom, I’m going to walk on at LIU.” But then I spoke to my high school coach and boy was I wrong, he told me what a walk-on was.”

After speaking with his coach and his mother, Raiquan decided his best option was to accept the preferred walk-on position at LIU. That decision became a defining moment in Raiquans basketball career and is where his story begins to capture the hearts of basketball fans around the globe.

“I talked to my mom and said, “I promise if you pay for the first year of my school year, I’ll be able to get the scholarship.” She trusted me, and the next year I got that scholarship.”

Raiquan’s first year at LIU went how you would expect, he received the rookie treatment and found himself predominately consigned to the bench. However, when he was given an opportunity on the floor, Raiquan impressed with his ability to shut down the opposition’s best player and his intense work ethic, eventually leading LIU to extend him a full athletic scholarship offer.

“I believe defense is the best part of my game, LIU used to put me on the best players. It’s something that’s been in me since my days at James Hillhouse, that offense is going to win us games, but defense will win us championships.”

It didn’t take Raiquan long to learn the differences between high school basketball and the collegiate level, something he says is first noticed during training.

“Game speed, game speed every time. That’s the biggest difference in college training; everything is fast-paced.”

The minutes started to come for Raiquan during his sophomore year, where he participated in 32 games for LIU and averaged 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Raiquan also showed out in a contest against Sacred Heart, going 7-for-9 from the field for a career-high 17 points while also pulling down seven rebounds.

Shockingly, that sophomore year pales in comparison to what followed in Raiquan’s junior and senior years. As a junior, Raiquan posted 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while leading the team in rebounding and finishing second on the team in points scored, notably, he also finished the season third in field goal percentage (55.6 percent) across the entire NEC division. Having performed at such a high level, Raiquan was named to the NEC All-Tournament Team.

It’s evident that there was an incredible jump in productivity between Raiquan’s sophomore and junior years, something he accredits to his countless hours spent at the training facility and in the gym.

“Just countless hours in the gym, countless hours in the weight room, and just watching film to see what I can do better.”

Raiquan looks back on his junior year fondly, as he recalls the emotions of winning the NEC Championship and qualifying to participate in the NCAA’s premier contest: March Madness.

“It was a great experience being able to cut the nets down. And everybody wants to reach March Madness when they’re younger and watching that on TV, and it was amazing to get there.”

Raiquan Clark

An athlete’s work never ends, though, and Raiquan was soon putting those successes to the back of his mind as he began to prepare for his final season at LIU. And what a season it was! Raiquan dominated the NEC as a scoring machine, striking fear into the hearts of every defender tasked with trying to contain him.

To conclude the 2018-19 NCAA season, Raiquan was the leading scorer in his division with 18.9 points per game and becoming only the 36th player in LIU history to exceed 1,000 points. Those scoring exploits saw Raiquan earn first-team All-NEC and second-team All-Met honors. A student athlete’s job isn’t just to dominate on one stage either; they have to perform in the classroom too, both to remain eligible and to ensure they have opportunities once the ball stops bouncing.

Raiquan was successful in meeting the obligations of succeeding on both the academic and athletic fronts, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in media arts – all while showing the world that Raiquan Clark can operate at the professional basketball level. When discussing the difficulties of achieving his degree while continually progressing, Raiquan explained why he never saw this as a challenge, but more so as a right of passage.

“If you’re going to college, you have to look forward to knowing you have to balance books and balance ball. Kemba Walker said when he graduated early, “If you want to be great, you got to be great with school too because that’s what comes with it.”

College is now over for Raiquan Clark, and while he will go down in LIU history and those memories of his success and impact will live on people’s minds forever, it’s time for the next chapter in his career. Raiquan isn’t sure what’s next for him now, with the current pandemic slowing down the recruitment process.

With a resume such as Raiquan’s, which displays a continued pattern of growth and adaptability, the NBA doesn’t seem out of reach for him. A point-forward capable of scoring in bunches and running the break, it’s no wonder he lists the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard as the players he tries to model his game after the most.

“I love Kawahi Leonard and his mid-range game, and how he plays defense, I love Jimmy Butler and his grit, and LeBron James is my favorite player.”

For now, though, all Raiquan Clark can do is continue to work and wait for his phone to ring, don’t be surprised if the person on the other end is an NBA front office executive, because Raiquan Clark has all the physical and mental tools required to succeed at the highest level.

“I know nothing will be handed to me, and everything has to be earned. Whoever gives me an opportunity, I’ll be ready.”

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