ALBANY — Ahmad Clark recognizes what went wrong for himself during his first season with the University at Albany men’s basketball team.
“Last year,” Clark said after a recent practice, “I would get in and try to make a play as soon as I got in, or just try to do something to show them that I should stay in the game.”
Clark punctuated that memory with a self-aware pause and a smile, as he realized he’d set up his own punchline.
“And whatever I did,” Clark said, “I was coming out, regardless.”
That was because Clark — for most of the season — served as the primary backup to Joe Cremo and David Nichols, guards who transferred to Villanova and Florida State, respectively, during the offseason. As long as each guard was at UAlbany, though, both those trusted players were going to gobble up minutes for head coach Will Brown.
“So there were no minutes [for Clark] and when I gave him minutes, all he wanted to do was hit home runs to try to prove to me that he should be on the court more,” Brown said. “When you put that much pressure on yourself, you usually end up struggling.”
Especially as the 2017-18 season progressed, that was the case for Clark who largely fell out of the rotation in the season’s final weeks. Ahead of a 2018-19 season that starts Friday at Iona for UAlbany, though, Clark is a clear leader for the Great Danes and the junior is a safe bet to lead them in scoring.
Even when he struggled last season, the 6-foot-1 guard’s talent was evident despite only averaging 3.7 points in 10.6 minutes per game. With more playing time heading his way, Clark finds himself in a better spot to demonstrate his long-range shooting and slashing abilities.
“I’m comfortable in my role right now,” Clark said. “Coach has me at the 1 and the 2. If I play at the 2, I can get out in transition, score, make a play for my team. If I’m at the 1, just run the show, run the offense and just make the right play.”
That Clark sees the difference in how he needs to play given where he is situated within Brown’s system is a positive change. It is one the coach has noticed, too, during a pair of scrimmages in which “Clark was really, really good” for a Great Danes team that needs the junior to step up.
“He’s playing more under control right now and it’s good to see,” Brown said.
During the preseason, Brown has often compared Clark to former UAlbany player DJ Evans, a guard who barely played as a junior before averaging 11.8 points per game as a senior. UAlbany likely needs Clark to provide a bit more scoring punch than that, though, and the junior is ready for what’s ahead of him.
“I feel like I have the freedom to play and I can make more plays for myself and my teammates,” Clark said. “I’m a lot more comfortable.”