In one form or another, these two set the tone for their respective basketball teams.
Courtesy Clark was the primary stopper for the McClatchy Lions, a pesky and athletic 5-foot-10 on-ball defender for the stingiest team in the region.
Jordan Brown was the leading scorer and defender for the Woodcreek Timberwolves, a towering 6-foot-11 presence who could score from anywhere and yank down rebounds when he wasn’t blocking shots for the top team in Northern California.
Clark and Brown are The Bee’s 2016-17 Players of the Year for their ability to impact games and seasons, as voted on by area coaches and from Bee observations, and for winning NorCal championships at the highest divisions.
McClatchy won the NorCal Division I title for the second time in three seasons while finishing 31-5. Woodcreek won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship when Brown hit two late free throws against Sheldon, and he powered the Timberwolves down the stretch to win the NorCal Open Division crown in a rematch with the Huskies.
Clark is the second McClatchy player to win player of the year honors, joining Gigi Garcia in 2015. Brown is the first Woodcreek basketball player – boys or girls – to win the award.
Clark was a varsity player her entire prep career, though she sat out her junior season after transferring from rival Sacramento, per CIF transfer policy. It was a move that initially pained her but one she said was “so worth it.”
Brown is a three-year varsity starter, and he is expected to be among the most heavily recruited players in the country next season with every major program already in pursuit.
Clark and Brown earned praise from teammates and coaches for their selfless play, good grades and on-court leadership. Both athletes also expressed gratitude to their parents for their rise to regional prep prominence, their fathers especially.
“My dad (Curtis) played football growing up and he liked it when I did as a 9-year-old,” Clark said. “I played tackle football. That’s where I learned about roughness, playing hard. I wasn’t a hitter, but I was fast, and I’d get the ball and use juke moves and a stiff arm. I know my dad is proud. I can see it.”
Clark didn’t have to resort to football tactics in basketball. Her deny defense and quick hands resulted in turnovers, often setting up the break for the Lions.
“She got it started for us on defense, and that’s what we wanted to do more than anything – play defense,” McClatchy coach Jeff Ota said.
Brown has been inspired by his father, Dion, who played professionally and works out regularly with his son to keep them both in shape. Dion Brown takes the load off of his son when it comes to recruiting. College coaches have to go through pop before they can get to son.
“He helps me keep my head on straight,” Jordan Brown said. “I used to play him 1-on-1, but the last time was when I was in seventh grade. I was about to win, but he ended the game. I never got to say I won. But he knows.”
Brown will play a lot of summer basketball, per the norm for players of his stature. He doesn’t know where he wants to attend college, and for now says: “I’m just a regular high school kid.”
Except that he’s likely taller than than all of his classmates. Brown is the region’s most talented and heavily recruited basketball big man since Bill Cartwright of Elk Grove High 40 years ago. Cartwright, who was also a 6-11 center in high school, grew to 7 feet. He excelled at the University of San Francisco and in the NBA.
“Jordan’s a great player, can do it all and will only get better,” Woodcreek coach Paul Hayes said.
Clark, who will play on scholarship at San Jose State, was happy to return to her beloved sport after sitting out the 2015-16 season due to injury.
“It was very hard,” she said. “I fell off the radar (of recruiting). I wasn’t motivated for awhile. I was depressed, but it turned out OK. I worked hard. We had a great season. I’m really proud of all of our players.
“Now I’m ready for college. I’ve very excited, but a little scared, but I think I’ll do OK.”