Kihei Clark: How the Forgotten Recruit Saved Virginia

Kihei Clark Virginia Recruit Saves Season

Getty Kehei Clark of the Virginia Cavaliers, who saved their season against the Oregon Ducks.

Despite standing just 5’9″, Virginia freshman Kihei Clark looks to be the Cavaliers latest diamond in the rough recruit to pay huge dividends. Playing his high school basketball at Taft High School in Southern California, Clark flew under the radar of nearly every program in the nation – even those in his own backyard.

Virginia's Kihei Clark Wraps Pass Around UNC Defender's BackVirginia Cavaliers' Kihei Clark had a Harlem Globetrotters type pass as he threw it behind-the-back on North Carolina's Cam Johnson. As Kihei Clark drove down the lane, Cam Johnson stepped up to help on defense so Clark wrapped a pass around Johnson's back to De'Andre Hunter who was open for the dunk in this ACC…2019-02-12T01:53:40.000Z

However, Virginia has a knack for finding lesser-known prospects who far exceed expectations, especially at the point guard position. It wasn’t too long ago that Virginia signed another unknown point guard out of Southern California named London Perrantes. Perrantes would go on to facilitate the Virginia offense as a starter for all four years, leading the Cavaliers to one of their best four year stretches in school history.

Kihei Clark High School Recruiting Offers

Despite producing an incredible stat line of 21 points per game, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds per game as a senior at Taft High School, Clark went mostly unnoticed given his size. In fact, Clark wouldn’t receive an offer from any of the Pac-12 programs. Outside of Virginia, the only other program to even extend an offer his way was mid-major UC Davis.

His high school coach, Derrick Taylor, recalled a story from this past summer after UVA’s surprising offer to the unheralded point guard. While coaching his son’s AAU team, Taylor said he was approached by a “middle of the road” Pac-12 team’s assistant coach who said:

“Congratulations on your guy Kihei earning a scholarship to Virginia. But I have to be honest with you. Don’t think you think that’s a little bit over his skis?”

The statement summed up Clark’s recruiting journey in a simple three-sentence response. Nobody outside of Tony Bennett and UC Davis, not even the local college coaches that got to see him on a regular basis, felt Clark had any shot to succeed in major conference college basketball.

How Kihei Clark Has Saved Virginia

Point guards in Tony Bennett offensive systems rarely put up big numbers but are usually the key cog that makes the entire team click. Following this trend, Clark understands his role and plays within it extremely well. Mostly willing to get the ball upcourt and put it in the hands of a veteran playmaker, Virginia’s Sweet 16 matchup with Oregon forced the diminutive freshman to take matters into his own hands.

Stuck in a back and forth defensive struggle with Oregon, Clark made big shot after big shot down the stretch. Kihei would finish the game with a season-high 12 points to go along with six assists and four rebounds as Virginia would hold off multiple late Oregon runs. It seemed that whenever Virginia couldn’t buy a bucket and Oregon got close, Clark would simply drill another shot and give the Cavs some breathing room.

More importantly, he shut down Oregon star Payton Pritchard holding him to 1-6 from three and 3-12 from the field. By locking up Pritchard, he effectively shut down the Oregon offense and allowed Virginia to stay in the lead despite not being able to score themselves.

He might be undersized and Pac-12 coaches may have laughed off the thought of him playing major college basketball but the fact remains that Kihei Clark got the last laugh and almost single-handedly beat the conference’s best program.