Charlotte 49ers freshmen forwards Willie Clayton and Darion Clark insist they dont keep track of which one of them gets the most rebounds, whether its in practice or games.
Thats not important, Clark said. What we want to do is get those rebounds from the other team. Thats what matters.
The rapid emergence of Clayton and Clark mostly through their work on the backboards is a big reason why Charlotte (14-2, 2-0 Atlantic 10) is off to one of the fastest starts in program history. The 49ers try to stay unbeaten in the league Wednesday when they host Fordham (5-12, 1-1) at 7:30 p.m. in Halton Arena.
Coach Alan Major recruited the two freshmen to bring energy and toughness to a Charlotte frontline thats been lacking both those qualities in recent seasons.
I think theyre making all our guys better, Major said. Theyre bringing a physicality that we havent had. That helps bring out the toughness in other guys. Its almost contagious.
The 6-foot-8 Clayton, one of Georgias top high school players last season at Thomasville High, has started all 16 games this season. He leads the 49ers and is fourth in the Atlantic 10 in rebounding at 7.7 per game (and is second in the league in offensive rebounding at 3.6 per game). He averages 8.9 points and is second in the league in field-goal percentage (60.9).
The 6-6 Clark grew up in Conyers, Ga., but comes from one of the countrys top basketball prep schools in the country, Virginias Oak Hill Academy. He started Charlottes first 13 games he was recently supplanted in the starting lineup by senior Chris Braswell and averages 6.6 points and 5.4 rebounds.
And as strongly as theyve started the season, they both know theyve got plenty to learn, especially offensively.
Theres a lot for them to process, Major said. Its getting used to which shoulder you like, learning how to get angles or putting your body on guys to get deeper (in the paint).
Said Clayton: Sometimes I rush a lot of my shots because maybe Im overhyped. Ive got to remember its just a game and Ive been in plenty of them. Ive just got to slow down.
Clayton and Clark arent the only freshmen having an impact on the 49ers. Guards Denzel Ingram and Ivan Benkovic are the teams best 3-point shooters Benkovic makes a team-high 41.2 percent, Ingram is at 31.3. And big man Mike Thorne, a redshirt freshman whom Major is bringing along slowly, has shown flashes of promise.
Clark understands whats expected of this group of freshmen, which is Majors second full recruiting class. Since taking over for Bobby Lutz in 2010, Majors first two teams at Charlotte were a combined 23-37. And Clark knows a little something about winning: his Oak Hill team went 44-0 last season and was ranked No.1 nationally.
The first thing we offer is hope, Clark said. They struggled the last couple years and we can bring some kind of hope that change is coming. Just stick with us. Were turning things around in a positive way. I think theres been a big difference already. Were starting something good. Weve just got to finish this season the way we started.
Clayton stood next to his teammate, listened and nodded.
He said it all, Clayton said.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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