When in the spring of 2017 Brandon Clarke decided to leave San Jose State, he had specific needs in mind for his next destination. First of all, he wanted to play for a winning program. Second, he wanted to go to a place where the coaching staff could help him improve.
Clarke exceeded his wildest expectations at Gonzaga.
He’s the latest example of the cruise-control program Mark Few has built in Spokane. These days, fans and pundits don’t mention Few’s name when power conference coaching jobs come open. That’s because, through a combination of mining the underrated Pacific Northwest area for high school talent, recruiting internationally, and nabbing the occasional transfer like Clarke, the Bulldogs have transcended the mid-major tag their affiliation with the West Coast Conference would suggest and have earned a place among the game’s elite programs.
During a redshirt year in 2017-18 and his only season playing for the Zags, Clarke not only got a taste of the program’s success — he made major contributions to an NCAA tournament Elite Eight run.
Clarke, a 6-foot-8, 215-pound redshirt junior, put up monster numbers, leading the nation in field-goal percentage (.694) and blocked shots (117) and averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds. And then there’s this: Clarke blocked the same number of shots he missed (257 of 374). How efficient is that?
His season’s handiwork was duly recognized — Clarke was chosen a third-team All-American, first-team All-WCC and the league’s defensive player of the year and newcomer of the year.