“The first time you sit down to do something, you’re not going to find flow; nor the second, or the tenth, and probably not even the hundredth. Why? Getting in the zone requires activating the subconscious part of the brain. The very nature of it requires you not to be trying, not consciously thinking about what it is you’re doing — instead, you’re just doing it.”
Bill Self sat alone in the small room reserved for press conferences after basketball games at Lloyd Noble. He had room enough to stretch his feet out and lounge if he wanted to on the raised platform.
We reporters were giving him plenty of space and each other next to none. While some of us were crammed into seats like cigarettes in an unopened pack in front of Self — happy to be sitting down for the duration of the presser — others leaned against the wall and still some others didn’t have a place to sit or a wall to lean against in the back of the room. That’s the way of it in Norman, Okla., when Kansas comes to town.
Self’s team had just beaten Oklahoma — they’d lost at Lloyd Noble a year ago — so he was in a good mood and made a point of saying hi to familiar faces looking back at him. It was a subtle courtesy but one I remembered. In this job, you mark the details.
Self talked about what happened in the game just as soon as we started asking him questions. He talked about getting his team refocused after a subpar performance (by Kansas standards) in non-conference play and where his team goes from here. Then he said something that caught me off guard about OU guard Cam Clark.
“Obviously, I’m just glad he only played 29 minutes,” Self said, “because if he’d played 35 minutes, he would’ve got 40. We couldn’t guard him.”
I guess it shouldn’t have caught me that off guard. Clark was averaging better than 18 points per game and had scored 32 points against Self’s team on 10-of-18 shooting. He’d also scored 32 against Michigan State a couple months earlier when the Spartans were ranked No. 1. But maybe it surprised me because Self said it, one of the best coaches in the game? Then someone asked Self what made Clark so good? What was it about him that confounded KU?
“He is one of the best mid-range jump shooters that I have seen,” Self said. “He is good at getting to the hole but what he does is he freezes you and he hits that 15- or 17-footer about as well as anyone.”
“We prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail.”
— Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success
Here are Cam Clark’s numbers over the last three years:
Freshman: 9.3 points per game, 47.4 percent from the floor, 66 percent from the line.
Sophomore: 8.5 points per game, 41.3 percent from the floor, 67 percent from the line.
Junior: 6.5 points per game, 51.3 percent from the floor, 81 percent from the line.
This is his line through 15 games:
18.7 points per game, 48.5 percent from the floor, 81.4 percent from the line.
Before this season, Clark had taken 86 3-pointers in his entire career, two-thirds of which he took as a freshman (67 attempts). He shot just one — ONE — 3-pointer last season, and he made it.
Through the first three years of his career, he shot 36 percent from beyond the arc. This season he’s shooting 43 percent and has taken 42 shots from 3-point land, or nearly half his total for his first three seasons at OU.
“It’s a very strange feeling. It’s as if time slows down and you see everything so clearly. You just know that everything about your technique is spot on. It just feels so effortless; it’s almost as if you’re floating across the track. Every muscle, every fibre, every sinew is working in complete harmony and the end product is that you run fantastically well.”
— Olympic sprinter Mark Richardson in Jeff Grout and Sarah Perrin’s “Mind Games”
I wrote about the offensive explosion that’s come out of Cam Clark a few weeks ago. You can read that here. As a junior, he was the fourth option on an NCAA tourney team.
The 2012-13 Sooners were Romero Osby’s team, and no one else’s. Clark was fine with that, fine with playing his role as an undersized power forward and doing just what was asked of him. Occasionally, Clark would thrill you with a high-flying alley-oop or a windmill dunk that summoned visions of Vince Carter. But that’s it.
He was, for the first three years of his career, the Shannon Brown of OU basketball. He was unselfish to a fault. He passed up wide-open looks that left you scratching your head. He wasn’t and isn’t the most vocal man on the court. He doesn’t yell at his teammates to get into the game. He doesn’t give the rah-rah speech. He just gets buckets.
He had just enough talent to make you wonder what he could do if Lon Kruger ever asked him to put the team on his back and win. Folks who’ve been watching him for the last three years have seen his ability and knew he could be a force in the Big 12. Osby, especially, was aware of this, and he told me that he wished Clark would become aware of it too.
“I hope one day it clicks for him, and he really understands how good he can really be because when that happens, it’ll be a wrap for the league,” Osby said.
“Being in the zone implies increased focus and attention which allow for higher levels of performance. Athletes, musicians, and anybody that totally owns a challenge of physical and mental performance can be in the zone.”
When Kruger walked into the interview room and took a seat with Buddy Hield and Clark following Self’s press conference, the place was a little less crowded. Most of the large Kansas media contingent had left to write their stories.
Kruger dutifully answered questions about the Sooners’ less than average defense and how badly they’d gotten beaten on the boards. Both were reoccurring themes for OU during non-conference play, but they’d been able to win the majority of their games because they simply outscored their opponents, which brings us back to Clark.
If not for his production this year, his finally developing a 3-point shot, his finally taking an assertive role on a team that was aching for a floor general, the Sooners might not have had the great start to the season they did, and they might not be as much fun to watch.
With cameras and tape recorders running and his coach sitting by his side, Clark attributed his basketball maturation to hard work — plain and simple. Hield though, he was a bit more blunt about what happened to Clark this season.
“Cam was always a great player,” Hield said, “he just didn’t have his time. This is his time.”