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Butler guard Clarke was Oklahoma’s Bailey
Posted By HOOPSWORLD On December 14, 2012 @ 12:00 pm In All,Wirenews | Comments Disabled
by David Woods, USA TODAY Sports
VERDIGRIS, Okla. — Some basketball players have a jersey retired. Some are honored with a banner. Some lead their team to a state championship.
Rotnei Clarke did all that, and more.
He originated a highway exit.
So many fans wanted to attend his games at Verdigris High School, 21 miles northeast of Tulsa, that highway officials added “Verdigris” to an exit sign on the Will Rogers Turnpike.
“People didn’t know how to get here,” said Alice Schneider, a teacher at the school.
They found out. They showed up. Not only in Verdigris, but at gyms throughout the state. People had to see this small, charismatic teen from rural Oklahoma who could shoot so accurately from so far away.
Maybe it was fate that Clarke ended up at a university like Butler, which takes on the top-ranked Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Butler’s small campus and close-knit team replicate his high school experience, and a basketball story like his is oh-so-familiar.
Clarke was Oklahoma’s Damon Bailey.
As a youngster, Clarke played on a summer travel team. Its nickname? Hoosiers.
Clarke and Bailey became their states’ all-time leading scorers. Both led their teams to state titles. Both attracted large crowds.
People came for a show, and Rotnei usually delivered. As a senior, he averaged 41 points a game. In his career, he scored more than 50 seven times and more than 60 twice.
Fans clamored for souvenirs, and he gave them armbands, wristbands, t-shirts or socks he had worn. There is a Rotnei Clarke Road sign, but it is often stolen.
“When I think back on it, it was a crazy deal,” he said. “It was fun. But at the same time, there was a lot of pressure on every game.”
His career climaxed in the 2008 state finals at Oklahoma City before more than 13,000 (in a 10,000-seat arena) in what is believed to be the state’s largest audience ever for high school basketball. Fans sat in the aisles. Hundreds were turned away at the door.
Clarke scored 35 points to lead Verdigris to the Class 3A title over Tahlequah Sequoyah 62-51. Afterward, he stayed and signed autographs. For 90 minutes.
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