The Norman Transcript

Sports

March 1, 2014

Longer road but worth it for Clark, Neal

(Continued)

NORMAN —

However, neither experienced instant impact careers.

There’s no doubt Clark has been one of the best players in the Big 12 this season. He enters today’s game averaging 15.3 points a game, which is 11th best in the conference.

Yet it took Clark four years to become that kind of player.

“I did four years here and I feel like I got better each and every year,” Clark said.

Neal can say the same. He hasn’t started a game since his freshman season. One of the reasons is he and Clark play the same position — the power forward spot designed to draw bigger defenders away from the paint.

However, Neal was a career 36.9-percent shooter in his first three seasons. He’s shooting 45.7 percent this season, including 42.4 percent from 3-point range. The only Sooner shooting better beyond the arc is Clark (46.8 percent). It’s the gradual ascension most college careers take.

“It’s been good to experience that and an honor to be here,” Neal said.

Both were a part of teams that went 14-18 their freshman year in 2011-12 and ended with the firing of Capel. They suffered the 15-16 campaign in Kruger’s initial season as sophomores.

They experienced the joy of OU returning to the NCAA tournament last season. This year, they’ve helped OU get back in the Top 25 for the first time since 2009 and a serious factor in the Big 12 race and a team to contend with in March.

Seniors get to go through those kinds of experiences. Every player that signs a letter of intent would love to come in and dominate from the opening game of their freshman year. The truth is: successful programs have a lot more career paths like Clark and Neal than freshman superstars who are in and out of college in less than a year.

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