Clark taking his stronger game to Loras

Clark taking his stronger game to Loras
By Jim Ecker
 
Griffen Clark felt he got pushed around too much when he was a 165-pound freshman on the Kirkwood basketball team two years ago, so he did something about it.
 
Clark dedicated himself to the weight room last summer and gained 25 pounds of muscle, jumping from 165 pounds to 190 and making him a much stronger player. He became a member of the rotation this past year, hit a bunch of clutch 3-pointers, took numerous charges and averaged 7.7 points per game. He started seven games and was an important guy off the bench in many others.
 
"The weight room is something I'm passionate about," he said. "I definitely got stronger. That definitely helped me, especially on defense."
 
Clark's hard work has earned him a spot at Loras College, where he'll be a junior with two years of eligibility with the Duhawks this season. Loras recruited Clark when he was at Cedar Rapids Prairie High School, but he wanted to attend Kirkwood for two years. Now Loras will be getting a player who's ready to help them win games.
 
"I've known for a while I wanted to go there," he said. "I made it up there for a visit and I loved it. Shortly after, I committed."
 
Clark comes from a Kirkwood family. His older brother, Cal, played baseball for the Eagles and subbed as an emergency player for the men's basketball team for a few games when they were short-handed and did very well with little practice.
 
Cal Clark graduated from Kirkwood in 2018 and went on to play baseball at Houston Baptist, where he's graduating this spring. Griffen Clark enrolled at Kirkwood right after Cal graduated and was a member of the Kirkwood men's basketball team that won the NJCAA Division II national title when he was a freshman in 2019.
 
Clark was not a prominent player on the national champs, but he made his mark in practice and helped push his teammates to the top. He appeared in 22 games that season and averaged 2.3 points on a special team.
 
"It's just something that will be a great memory forever," he said. "Everyone on that team is still in touch.
 
"That group was so close, on and off the court. It made it that much more special."
 
Clark felt he was not strong enough as a freshman to prevent players from driving past him to the basket. That changed when he added 25 pounds of muscle, giving him robust arms and shoulders, and he also continued to be a student of the game. The results were impressive.
 
"I would say I became a lot smarter player, just knowing the game better," he said. "I knew what I did well and stuck with that."
 
Clark made 42.5 percent of his 3-pointers this past season with an average of 2.4 triples per game, many in clutch situations. Coach Tim Sandquist would put Clark on the floor when he felt the Eagles needed a boost of energy and a big 3-pointer.
 
Clark also did something that Sandquist and his teammates loved by sacrificing his body and taking a charge to force a turnover.
 
"It's not easy to take charges and dive on the court," he said. "I think that's something that separates me from other players."
 
Clark became a fan favorite with his performances and convinced people he could contribute to one of the best junior college programs in the country. "Not a lot of people gave me a chance, probably," he remarked. "I used that to motivate myself."
 
"He earned everything he got," said Sandquist.
 
Kirkwood compiled a flashy 55-10 record during Clark's two years on the team, with the national title in 2019 and the conference regular-season crown this year. Now he'll try to have more success at Loras, an NCAA Division III school in Dubuque.
 
"I think it will definitely be competitive, just like it would be anywhere," he said. "I'll work and try to earn my spot, try to continue the winning tradition we had at Kirkwood.
 
"There are areas I can work on to become a better player," he said. "That's kind of exciting."