Sharpshooter Clarke to Butler? Makes a lot of sense

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Marriages don't get any better than this. At least not second ones.

Rotnei Clarke to Butler.

The nation's elite shooter playing for the nation's elite young basketball coach.

It's almost too good to be true, but it may happen.

Clarke told CBSSports.com that he intends to visit Brad Stevens and the Bulldogs on Thursday.

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Clarke wouldn't go as far as to say whether Butler was the favorites of the current group he spoke about visiting -- which included Virginia and home-state Oklahoma -- but the intrigue in his voice was clear when he mentioned the Bulldogs.

There would be no more perfect Butler player than Clarke. I can see him stepping over the midcourt line at Hinkle Fieldhouse and launching 3s.

Visions of Jimmy Chitwood from Hoosiers.

The only sad part is that these two sides didn't consummate their relationship sooner -- and didn't have four years of bliss together.

Instead, Clarke matured his game in virtual anonymity -- for three seasons under former Arkansas coach John Pelphrey before deciding he wanted to go elsewhere rather than finish his career under new coach Mike Anderson.

We all know that Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack aren't walking through that door at Hinkle again.

But with Clarke in the fold for the 2012-13 campaign, there's no reason to believe Stevens can't make another deep tournament run.

National championship-game worthy?

Highly unlikely, but we all uttered those words that this past year -- and Stevens' magical whatever-he-touches-turns-to-gold somehow had the program back in the title contest.

Rotnei Clarke raises up over Tennessee defenders. Will he be shooting for Brad Stevens next? (US Presswire)  
Rotnei Clarke raises up over Tennessee defenders. Will he be shooting for Brad Stevens next? (US Presswire)  
Just imagine a team with Clarke surrounded by senior big man Andrew Smith as well as then-juniors Khyle Marshall and Chrishawn Hopkins.

Then you can throw one of the talented guys among the four-man incoming freshman class, whether it's 6-foot-9 Kameron Woods (who has similarities to Hayward), versatile 6-foot-4 Roosevelt Jones or 6-foot-1 Australian guard Jackson Aldridge (currently starting on the U-19 national team).

That's one heck of s starting five.

Listen, Clarke can't go wrong with any of his current options. He can go back home and play for one of the most underrated coaches in the nation, Lon Kruger, who left UNLV for Oklahoma this past offseason.

He could head to Charlottesville, Va., and play for one of the highest-character guys in the business, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett.

Or he could go play for America's Sweethearts.

I remember the first day I saw Clarke back in the summer following his sophomore year in high school. Willie Warren came over to me and told me that this little, chubby teammate of his with Team Texas was the best shooter in the nation.

I laughed at him and while Warren was off-base on many topics, he was dead-on about this.

With all respect to Vanderbilt's John Jenkins (who stands at 1B on my list of the nation's top shooters), if I want someone taking a shot from deep with the game on the line, I'm going with Clarke.

And we all know how much Butler loves to shoot the trifecta.

The 6-foot Clarke is far from a finished product -- and he's the first one to admit it. However, his game has expanded from strictly a spot-up guy to someone who can run a team and also beat defenders off the dribble.

"When he came in to college, he was a specialist," one SEC coach said. "He was a catch-and-shoot guy, a below-average player.

"Over the last 12 games last year, he did everything. He was getting to the free-throw line, was making shots -- and also making guys better. He became a complete player."

Clarke averaged nearly 20 points over the final dozen games, shooting 52 percent from beyond the arc and getting to the line more than five times a game.

He was a second-team all-league guy in the SEC, which is clearly an upgrade over the Horizon.

"He's got the potential to be the Player of the Year in the entire league," one SEC coach said.

Clarke also speaks about next season, when he'll be sitting out and unable to play, and how critical it will be to set the stage for his final season on the court.

And what better way to learn than to have to go up against one of the nation's elite perimeter defenders each day: Butler's Ronald Nored.

Clarke won't have any choice but to get better.

And he's already pretty darn good.

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