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Jason Clark takes leadership role for Georgetown basketball

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Jason Clark patiently waited for his turn to be the headliner for the Georgetown men’s basketball team. Ninety-seven games, to be exact.

His long wait, though, will finally end Saturday at noon, when Savannah State visits Verizon Center in the season opener for both teams.

For the first time since Clark arrived in 2008, the Arlington native will be the most established player in blue and gray, the most experienced voice in the locker room, the Hoyas’ unquestioned leader.

“It’s really different because I was living under a shadow and playing behind other leaders on the team,” said Clark, a senior guard, referring to Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, who graduated in May. “The last time I had to lead was in high school. At first I was looking for someone else to be the leader. But it’s just me.”

Although it’s hard to handicap expectations for a roster that has 10 freshmen and sophomores and lost more than half of its scoring to graduation, this much is known: More will be expected from Clark, who was forced to “grow up quick” over the past year, he said.

When the ball is tipped against the Tigers, it will signal the end of a tough stretch for Clark that included his grandmother’s death last November, a second consecutive first-round defeat in the NCAA tournament in March and a much-publicized brawl in China during a goodwill tour in August.

Each experience was difficult in a different way. Nothing, though, challenged Clark more than the loss of his grandmother, Jannetta Clarke, who passed away after a battle with cancer hours before the Hoyas faced Tulane in the second game last season.

“My grandmother pretty much raised me,” Clark said. “I have a huge picture of her hugging me right across from my bed. I say, ‘I love you, Grandma,’ when I wake up and ‘I love you Grandma,’ before going to bed every night.”

Clark credited his grandmother’s guidance — as well as basketball — for keeping him on a positive path at time just before high school when, he said, his life could have gone one of two ways. Janetta Clarke attended each of his high school games at Bishop O’Connell, penciling in each of his three-pointers in a scorer’s book.

“Things could have gone a lot differently,” Clark said. “I wanted to make my whole family proud of me because they were struggling and I had a chance to do something right.”

He added: “I still look around for her. Before the games, I used to look up at my mom and grandmother and wave. They always sat in the same spot. Now it’s tough looking up there and waving to only my mom.”

Clark played that afternoon against Tulane, honoring Jannetta’s memory with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He acknowledged this week that the pain lingered.

“Last year was very, very difficult off the court and probably carried over sometimes on the court for him,” Hoyas Coach John Thompson III said. “Losing his grandmom had a tremendous effect on him. I don’t think that has gone away.”

“But,” Thompson added, “I think he’s understanding how to cope.”

The gym has always been Clark’s sanctuary, and this past summer was no different. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Clark rededicated himself in the weight room, packing about 10 pounds onto his sinewy frame. He expended even more effort perfecting his shooting stroke a season after his three-point accuracy plummeted from 42.4 percent to 34.7 percent.

Although junior swingman Hollis Thompson figures to be Georgetown’s primary scoring option, Clark said he recognizes the need to become a more consistent jump-shooter, especially after more than half of the Hoyas’ scoring graduated.

Clark averaged a career-best 12 points per game last season, topping 20 points four times. But he also was also limited to eight or less points on 13 occasions.

“I’m going to have a lot on my shoulders,” he added. “I’m going to have to defend and I’m going to have to score. More than that, I’m going to have to push guys to be better.”

Off the court, it didn’t take Clark long to embrace the role of team captain. Over the summer, a few of the younger Hoyas showed up for a weightlifting session a minute or two before it was scheduled to start. Before it became a habit, Clark intervened.

“That’s not how we do things,” he recalled telling them. “That’s late. We get there 10 or 15 minutes early to make sure we’re ready and everyone is there.”

If there was any doubt who would replace Wright as the Hoyas’ leader, that moment clinched it, according to point guard Markel Starks, Clark’s new partner in the back court.

When starting lineup is announced Saturday, the “D.C. Three” — Wright, Freeman and Clark — will down to only one.

“This is Jason’s team,” Starks said. “It’s his time to be the guy. It’s the Jason Clark show now.”

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