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Aaron Clarke hopes to play crucial role in second shot with Stony Brook

Point guard Aaron Clarke (center) prepares to pass the ball while being defended by power forward Leon Nahar in practice on Sunday, Oct. 15. Clarke is back for his second year with Stony Brook after an injury-riddled 2022-23 season. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

When point guard Aaron Clarke arrived at Stony Brook last year, he was expected to play a significant role for the school’s depleted men’s basketball team. Unfortunately for Clarke and the Seawolves, he sustained a nagging lower back injury during the preseason which spoiled those plans and sidelined him for most of the 2022-23 season.

Without Clarke, Stony Brook played the season without a true point guard and the offense finished with the second-fewest points per game in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA). His absence contributed to the Seawolves posting their worst record in the past 15 years.

“It was very disappointing,” Clarke said in an interview. “Putting in all that work in the offseason and expecting to be a key contributor on a team [but] not being able to play. I just took it as another lesson in life and thought of a way and an opportunity to grow from it.”

Clarke wound up making his debut with Stony Brook on Dec. 3, 2022 against the 8-1 Yale Bulldogs and proved exactly why he was brought in. In only 22 minutes of play off the bench, Clarke scored 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting. His great debut allowed the Seawolves to give Yale a run for its money, but they fell just short 77-72.

Playing in front of Stony Brook’s home crowd that night was a big uplift for him.

“Our fans came out that game and were loud and rowdy,” Clarke said. “It was special to get out there and at least play in front of the home crowd and see how we are as fans and as a team.”

Clarke played the next two games against Bryant and his former school, Sacred Heart, but struggled. In those games, he combined for just 10 points on 3-of-18 shooting, but he did collect 10 assists and four steals.

However, the Sacred Heart game wound up being the end of his season. With just 36 seconds left in the first half, Clarke drove the lane and drew a foul, but he came up lame afterwards. He clutched his back, knocked down both free throws and then finished the game. After leading the Seawolves to the comeback win over his former team, the training staff re-evaluated Clarke’s back.

That is where Clarke, his family and coaches drew the line and called it quits on the year.

“After the Yale game, we thought I could get through just rehabbing and not practicing,” Clarke said. “But the Bryant game wasn’t good — and the Sacred Heart game was worse — so we thought we should shut it down.”

After Clarke was shut down for the year, a bigger problem was discovered by his doctors: tests revealed no structural damage to his back. Instead, it turned out that he suffers from an autoimmune disease that was causing his aches and pains. To treat his condition, he took the rest of the year to recover while receiving biweekly Adalimumab (Humira) shots.

Clarke’s rehabilitation was not the easiest, as it was his first major injury.

“It was a lot of physical and mental work I had to go through,” Clarke said. “The back injury itself was tough to go through. I’m just trying to figure out what I can and can’t deal with and what to stay away from in the weight room and what I [can] do in the weight room.”

By playing in only three games and having his season cut short by injury, Clarke received an injury redshirt, giving him the opportunity for a sixth year. However, the decision to continue balancing graduate school and basketball was not an easy one to make. Clarke only finalized the decision to exercise his extra year of eligibility towards the end of the 2022-23 season.

Looking at the core of returning players inspired his decision to come back.

“We had multiple people out for the year,” Clarke said. “We thought that we would be a pretty good team this year, and I felt like the pieces we were adding back and the trust I had in Coach [Geno] Ford and the coaching staff that we could be a really good team.”

Now that he is healthy, Stony Brook is gaining a huge asset. Clarke was an integral part of Sacred Heart’s team for his four years there. His scoring and passing numbers went up in all four years of his career with the Pioneers, where he became a 1,200-point scorer. He averaged 11.8 points and 2.8 assists per game there and proved himself a reliable free-throw shooter with a career percentage of .838. He was efficient as a facilitator, as he turned the ball over fewer than two times per game and posted a 1.5 assists to turnover ratio.

In each of Clarke’s last three years with Sacred Heart, he averaged over double-digit points per game. As a freshman in 2018-19, he led the Pioneers’ second unit with 8.3 points per game while playing in all 32 of their games.

In the 2021-22 season — his senior year — Clarke posted a career-best .421/.307/.872 shooting line. He ranked seventh in the Northeast Conference (NEC) in points per game (16.0) and second in assists per game (4.1). His breakout final year with Sacred Heart landed him a spot on the 2021-22 All-NEC Third Team.

Clarke’s time with the Pioneers was crucial towards his development as a player.

“It made me a better point guard overall,” Clarke said. “It was big learning how to lead a team and how the college game is played and what you have to do night in and night out to win games, because it’s very hard to win games in college.”

Dating back to his high school days, Clarke has a winning track record. During his freshman year at Roselle Catholic High School, he won both the New Jersey State Championship and the Tournament of Champions in 2015.

He then transferred to Pope John XXIII Regional High School where he became their all-time leading scorer. There, he won the New Jersey Herald’s Player of the Year award in 2017 and Sportzone’s Player of the Year. 

After graduating from Sacred Heart, Clarke searched for a change of scenery and found the ideal landscape with Stony Brook. While recruiting him, head coach Geno Ford and assistant coach Jalen Avery told Clarke that they wanted him to run their offense. The family-oriented nature of their program helped sell him on the idea.

Now that Stony Brook’s championship-caliber, All-Conference facilitator is back and healthy, the team has a chance for a major bounce back. His comeback tour will tip off on Tuesday, Nov. 7 at the St. John’s Red Storm.

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About the Contributor
Alex Streinger, Assistant Sports Editor
Alex Streinger is an Assistant Sports Editor of The Statesman. He is a junior majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. He is the beat reporter of the Stony Brook men’s soccer and nationally-ranked women’s lacrosse teams. He interns at Movendi International, the largest independent global social movement for development through alcohol prevention.
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