Clarke being counted on to score
Loyola's James Clarke drives past Wheeling's Chris Pierro for a layup on Dec. 26 at Wheeling's 35th Annual Wildcat Hardwood Classic. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:41AM
WHEELING — Loyola’s James Clarke was the team’s starting point guard last season, but he is no longer.
Instead, the 5-foot-11 junior has been moved to two-guard, a switch Ramblers’ coach Tom Livatino said makes Loyola a better team.
“We made the decision in the spring that we wanted James off the ball, to free him up for more scoring opportunities,” Livatino said. “James did a really good job (at the point). But for us to be better, he had to score more.”
Of course, the plan would have been less effective if a sufficient replacement at the point had not been found. But junior Kevin Kucera has been a revelation at that spot. Clarke plays next to him in the backcourt and often takes over the point when Kucera leaves the game.
Clarke said the pair complement one another.
“I actually like it, (Kucera) gets me more shots on offense,” Clarke said. “He’s just a great player. He’s good handling the pressure and that relaxes me a little. We both are point guard/shooting guard types. So, if they are pressing, we can both bring up the ball.”
Clarke missed parts of four games early in the season after suffering a concussion on Nov. 24 against Glenbrook South. A sprained ankle then slowed his comeback.
He returned in early December, but initially saw limited action.
Clarke, whose 13 points-per-game average was second on the team last year, appeared to be back to his old self when he poured in 20 points in a 78-39 win over host Wheeling in the Dec. 26 opening game of the Wildcat Hardwood Classic.
Livatino said he was particularly impressed by Clarke’s energy considering the game came the day after Christmas, a time when players can be a bit lethargic.
“James is getting back in the flow of things,” Livatino said. “He (played) with a lot of bounce in his step (against Wheeling). He’s healthy and getting back into game shape after being out for two weeks. But he’s good to go.”
Loyola will depend on Clarke’s offensive contribution even more than initially expected after senior guard Peter Pujals was lost for the season with a wrist injury.
“Coach said I have to score the ball because (Pujals) was one of our top scorers,” Clarke said. “With (Livatino) saying that, I just have to come out with a lot of confidence, take my shots and score the ball.”