COLUMBIA — Jordan Clarkson eyed the star point guard closely, picking up as much as he could. He was determined to take as much as he could from the Chris Paul Elite Guard Camp earlier this month, and that meant studying what made the Los Angeles Clippers star so special.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
"It’s hard to explain," Clarkson said. "It was crazy watching him play. We were playing five-on-five one day and he ran off like five buckets in a row. On the block, score. Fast break, score. He’s shifty and knows how to create space and make other better."
The latter is something the junior combo guard paid close attention to. Missouri coach Frank Haith has already said the transfer from Tulsa will be counted on to help fill the void at the point left by Phil Pressey, though freshmen Wes Clark and Shane Rector will likely do the same.
"I’m really not sure what we’re looking at as far as the depth chart goes, but in practice, I’ve been running both the one and the two," Clarkson said. "They are not the same, but both are really ball-dominant roles. It’s an open system and it gives us a lot of freedom."
Clarkson, who averaged 16.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists as a sophomore in 2011-2012, got a chance to spend last season working on his game while he sat out due to NCAA transfer rules.
That hiatus, not to mention some crucial advice he received from Pressey and former MU guard Michael Dixon, Jr., who each attended the camp last summer, helped Clarkson feel prepared to battle the likes of Duke’s Quinn Cook, North Carolina’s P.J. Hairston, Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and Memphis’ Joe Jackson at the invitation-only camp, which was held in Paul’s hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C.
"They told me they learned a lot — especially Phil, I still talk to Phil like everyday," Clarkson said. "He was the one telling me to pick Chris’ brain while I was out there."
So he did. By doing that — and by watching the 6-foot Paul, of course — he left believing that with his quickness and height, he should always find a way to get his shot off.
"He showed us some one-on-one moves, some stuff to create space,” said the 6-foot-5 Clarkson. “Then he showed us how to come off screens. Learning from Chris, even though he was small, I saw that if he can get his shot off at his size using those moves, I know I can do the same."
Clarkson said he feels very comfortable coming off ball screens, something he said he did a lot of at Tulsa, but has also worked hard on being a distributor in the pick-and-roll, a staple of Missouri’s offense and a Pressey specialty that’s not nearly as easy to execute as it sounds.
"It’s really just a feel thing, being able to read the defense and the guys on the court, people on help defense," Clarkson said.
Clarkson is also eager to show off his new and improved strength this season. Strength coach Todor Pandov said Clarkson has gained 17 pounds of muscle since he arrived at Missouri, and currently weighs 197 pounds.
"I love the kid," Pandov said. "He said he went to the Chris Paul camp and did really well there. A lot of people have complimented him on his new body."
Clarkson hopes his length and improved strength will help him defend the speedy point guards and stronger two-guards he’ll see on a regular basis this season.
"I feel like I’m quick and can use my length, I don’t feel like I have a problem (defending)," Clarkson said. "I wanted to put on strength and more weight to help defensively because I don’t want to be getting pushed around out there."
At least one his former teammates think Clarkson is primed for a big season.
"He’s going to help the team a lot more than a lot of people think," Pressey said.
Forward Alex Oriakhi, a team leader last season who recently signed with a pro team in France, agreed and took it a step further.
"There were so many times in practice last year he was just torturing us," said Oriakhi, who graduated in May. "I was like (darn), how can he shoot this good? He’s a big guard, he can shoot the ball, defend, a ridiculous athlete, all the tools are there. I told him he’s a pro. Jordan Clarkson is a pro in my opinion. But who am I? Ultimately the GMs will see that this year."
Perhaps. The 2014 NBA Draft is loaded, and ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford currently lists Clarkson as the draft’s No. 78 overall prospect. But anything can happen over the course of 10 months — some guys will fall off while others emerge — and Clarkson, who dreams of making it to the NBA, knows what a strong season could mean for his professional career.
So yes, he plans on taking everything he learned over the last year — including the opportunity he got to observe Paul earlier this month — and put it to good use.
"Right now, I’m not worried about the next level, man," Clarkson said. "I’m trying to get wins for the team. If we get wins, everything will take care of itself. That’s what I’m focused on."