Brandon Clarke was recently called “Gonzaga’s littlest big man” by the Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks. The label fits, as the 6-foot-8 forward starts at center for the NCAA Tournament West Region’s No. 1 seeded Zags.
For a program that has pumped out NBA big men such as Kelly Olynyk, Domantas Sabonis and Zach Collins, Clarke is a different player entirely. As Tjarks puts it:
The records at Sports-Reference.com go back to the 1992-93 season, and no player in that time has matched his all-around production: 17.0 points on 69.9 percent shooting, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 3.1 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game.
The junior is also incredibly efficient, posting an offensive rating of 135.4 (points per 100 possessions), which ranks No. 4 nationally. It wasn’t always this way, though, as Clarke has taken a circuitous route to Spokane.
Let’s take a quick look at his recruitment and journey to stardom at Gonzaga.
Brandon Clarke Recruitment & Time at San Jose State
Born in Vancouver, Owens moved to Phoenix and graduated from Desert Vista High School. 247 Sports ranked him as a 2-star small forward and far from any national rankings.
His only Division I offer came from San Jose State, so Clarke committed for the 2015 recruiting cycle. His first season was decent for a freshman, as he scored 8.8 points per game. On the defensive end, he grabbed 5.6 rebounds, but really made his presence known by swatting 1.2 shots per game.
The next year, his offense exploded. He averaged 17.3 points, 8.8 boards and 2.6 blocks. The efforts earned him All-Mountain West First-Team honors, as well as a spot on the MWC All-Defensive team.
Transfer to Gonzaga
In his 2 seasons in the Bay Area, Clarke and the Spartans went just 23-38. Head coach Dave Wojcik resigned for personal reasons in July 2017 and was replaced by Jean Prioleau.
The lack of team success and the coaching transition gave him the opening to search for another program. While he also considered Oregon and Washington State, he eventually chose to transfer to Gonzaga to play for Mark Few.
“That place just felt right,” Clarke said in a phone interview with the Spokesman-Review. “The campus was so nice, the coaches were very good. I just felt like I would fit into that team very well and play very well in their system.
“I also really like their redshirt program and it’s going to help me get better as a player and a person.”
He needed to sit out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, which left him antsy to hit the court in 2018-19.
“It was something that was actually really, really tough on me,” he said to the Toronto Sun after Thursday’s Sweet 16 victory over Florida State. “Obviously not playing games and just having to sit on the bench every game and watch was something I don’t really like.”
He now finds himself shooting up NBA Draft boards. ESPN ranks him as the No. 4 power forward and No. 14 overall prospect for this summer’s draft. His parents expressed to KREM, CBS’ Spokane affiliate, how shocking it is to see their son’s meteoric rise.
“Shocking a little bit compared to where we were a couple years ago but watching him play I can see why,” said his father Bryan Clarke. “The kid is amazing. He’s absolutely an incredible all-around basketball player.”
To make the Sweet 16, Clarke racked up 36 points against the Baylor Bears. With more performances like that, he’ll continue burying that 2-star high school ranking for good.