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Rotnei Clarke: Butler guard relies on God, family for support

Emily+Diehl+%2F+Multimedia+Director
Emily Diehl / Multimedia Director

Emily Diehl / Multimedia Director

Emily Diehl / Multimedia Director

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It’s unusual and extraordinary for me to use my column space to rave about an opponent. After all, is not the whole philosophy behind competitive sports to destroy, dismantle and embarrass your opponent? Respect their athleticism, sure, but prove to them that you are superior, despite what the statistics or critics may say.

So you may find it curious that the following column is about Butler’s star point guard Rotnei Clarke. Originally, I had intended to write a piece about the Clarke family; Rotnei’s younger sister, Cassie, is a senior and star in her own right on the volleyball court for Saint Louis University. But when I got a chance to talk to Mr. Clarke, I realized what an incredible athlete the SLU community saw play on Thursday, Jan. 31.

First, let’s talk about Rotnei the nationally recognized point guard. As a player at Verdigris High School in Oklahoma, Clarke lead his team to its first state championship and became the state’s all-time lead scorer with 3,758 points. He would receive over 30 offers, including Kentucky, Kansas, and Oklahoma, before signing with Arkansas.

As a freshman at Arkansas, he was the top freshman in the nation in 3-pointer percentage (39.3 percent) and had 22 double-digit scoring games. Needless to say, the nation knew who Rotnei Clarke was. He transferred to Butler after Arkansas changed head coaches in 2011.

When Butler visited SLU, I took attention to watch Clarke during the warm-up shoot around. His shot is almost mystical. I had a conversation with a SLU player about him, and we both marveled at its ease and simplicity. He missed only a handful of the over 100 shots he took before the game. Rotnei told me he averages 500 shooting reps outside of practice – yes, outside of his mandated time, he takes over 500 shots.

The senior is shooing 42 percent from the field, 44 percent from behind the arc and leads the team with 17 points per game. That’s about what SLU held him to at Chaifetz Arena. If it wasn’t obvious to you what a stellar basketball player Rotnei is after seeing him play here, then you aren’t a true fan of college basketball.

But what really blew me away was who Rotnei is as a student, a friend, and a brother. Too often, I think, athletes become divine and therefore separated from reality. Not Clarke.

Rotnei says that before every game he and his sister text each other Bible verses; he texts her before volleyball games, and she texts him before basketball games.

“Cassie and I are best friends,” he said. “Even if we didn’t have the sports, our faith is really important to us. We push each other in the game of life.”

He jokes that it’s false that she can regularly beat him in “HORSE,” as the SLU student section suggested on Thursday.

“It’s funny to me, I’m sure she got a kick out of it,” he said. It’s part of the game … She has beat me a couple times when we play. I joke with her that I’m just missing shots. She’ll admit [that] I got some volleyball skills, too.”

What is in the future for Rotnei, not even he knows. Certainly, professional basketball is a probability, and I’m betting on the NBA. He wants to be able to coach basketball at some point, too.

But what Clarke says about his future, is, I think, a most succinct prediction:

“I don’t think I’ll ever get away from the game of basketball.”

Emily Diehl / Multimedia Director

Emily Diehl / Multimedia Director

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Rotnei Clarke: Butler guard relies on God, family for support