by Chris Bahn
Posted 6/20/2011 10:00 am
Arkansas was supposed to be building the foundation of its basketball future with the 2008 recruiting class. It was a collection of high school, prep school and junior college talent that included four players ranked among the country’s top 150.
Rivals.com rated the class No. 15 overall. Some outlets had it ranked higher.
Seemingly, the group had it all. Every piece a coach and program could want to build around was there: a lightning-quick, playmaking point guard; athletic wings; versatile big men and a phenomenal shooter.
But the cornerstone of potential championships crumbled. Quickly at first. Then it slowed, but piece-by-piece the heralded recruiting class fell apart, hastening the exit of former Coach John Pelphrey and his staff.
Forward Montrell McDonald lasted less than a semester. Forwards Jason Henry, Andre Clark and Brandon Moore were gone by the end of 2008-09. Point guard Courtney Fortson made it two years. Most forget Terrance Joyner was supposed to be part of the class, but couldn’t make it into school.
Guard Rotnei Clarke appeared to be the one player that would make it four years. Clarke was perceived as the most stable player in the group. He led the team in scoring as a junior and had a reputation in some circles as a good citizen off the floor.
But even Clarke, who is supposed to be finalizing his departure today, couldn’t make it with the Razorbacks. He considered leaving when Pelphrey was fired in March, but agreed to stay after Mike Anderson was hired in April. Then changed his mind again, hurting himself and the program in the process.
By agreeing to stay — and talking with Little Rock media about his decision to stay — that led Arkansas to cut ties with players it was pursuing in case spots opened up on the team. Player turnover is a natural byproduct of a coaching change. It happens everywhere, but rarely this late in the process.
Clarke's requests to leave shouldn't have come as a surprise, considering he routinely flirted with the idea of leaving. Now he is no longer with the program, though details are hazy. What we do know is that Clarke went to a national media outlet Friday to vent his frustration with the program and Anderson.
Any member of the Arkansas administration that could have handled a transfer request was out of the office last week. They were attending a national convention and making plans to get back to family for Father's Day as soon as the convention ended.
Clarke didn't like the time the process was taking and went to CBSSports.com. Hours later Anderson announced to the team Clarke was gone.
By airing his grievances and ending his time with the Razorbacks, Clarke lent a weird bit of consistency to a wildly inconsistent, but talented bunch of players from that 2008 recruiting class. Not a single member of that group understood during their time here what it took to thrive as part of a team.
Not a single one.
Speaking to Jeff Goodman of CBS, a writer who has routinely hailed Clarke as the nation's best shooter, Clarke voiced concerns about his “fit” with Anderson’s up-tempo system. These concerns came despite multiple former players investing hours in explaining to Clarke how he would benefit from the system and how the system would benefit from his ability to shoot, especially in transition.
Clarke’s final destination isn’t clear at this point. Somebody will see his shooting ability and take a chance on him despite the fact they’ll have to wait a year before they get to see him in action thanks to NCAA transfer rules. Somebody will be willing to overlook the additional and sometime detrimental coaching Clarke is getting from outside influences.
Hopefully, Clarke finds a situation that makes him and his family happy. Everybody deserves that in life, though most of us learn at one time or another the grass isn’t always greener.
Wherever Clarke suits up next, it won’t be with the Razorbacks. Had he not waited until June — after schools have already begun offseason workouts for 2011-12 — his options might have been better. Who knows?
We do know now that Clarke is gone, zero players remain to play what should have been the senior season for five of six players in the 2008 class.
Nobody is left from what seemed to be the future of Arkansas basketball. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a future for Razorback basketball.
Clark, Clarke, Fortson, Henry, Moore and McDonald are all gone. Arkansas will take an Academic Progress Rate hit during a four-year stretch because of them. That score will likely be low for years to come, which is where Arkansas suffers the most without Clarke. The Razorbacks will find somebody to contribute points on the floor, but they really could have used the APR boost when he graduated.
Perhaps it’s a good thing none of the players from the 2008 signing class remain, though.
Consider how little Arkansas accomplished with the group. Now the Razorbacks get to move past that disastrous class and build a solid future without them.