Anaheim, Calif. – Despite a strong high school career in Phoenix, Brandon Clarke didn't attract any scholarship offers from power programs.
San Jose State met with him, asked him to pay his own tuition and walk on, but his mother talked the coach into watching him play, and he received a scholarship.
After two seasons at San Jose State, the coach, Dave Wojcik, resigned, and Clarke looked around, accepting a scholarship from Gonzaga. He sat out one season and now is the most athletic and versatile player on a No. 1 seed that on Saturday will play Texas Tech for the right to play in the Final Four in Minneapolis.
Did he doubt he could play so well for a national power?
"I wouldn't say doubts, really, no," he said. "There were times when I was, like, I would say nervous. Because it was just different playing for a team that was trying to play for something bigger."
Now Clarke is an old-school star for the Bulldogs. He will try to lead them past Texas Tech's smothering defense in the West Region final on Saturday.
In the second round, against Baylor, Clarke produced 36 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Only two other players have produced as many as 35 points and five blocks in a tourney game — Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson. Both are in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Clarke, at 6-8, excels because of his ability to leap high and quickly. He took only 15 three-point shots this season, making four. He scores by spinning off defenders and finding creative ways to finish at the rim.
He demonstrates a knack for leaping high to block shots without fouling. Saturday, his uncanny ability to slither between defenders will be tested by the nation's best defense.