Breaking down how new KU commitment Zach Clemence fits at Kansas
While talking with new Kansas basketball commitment Zach Clemence on Monday morning about his decision to pick KU, I asked him if his game compared to any player that Kansas fans might know.
“I don’t think it’s just one person,” he said. “I see it in multiple guys.”
Fair enough. After all, players like Clemence — long, tall, athletic forwards who both can shoot from distance and play down low — are starting to become a more regular part of the game and are popping up on teams around the country at all levels of basketball.
As the game continues to evolve and spacing becomes more important than ever, the idea of creating mismatches by dragging big bodies away from the rim to cover taller players who can shoot has become awfully appealing to coaches.
That includes KU coach Bill Self, who went hard after Duke’s Matt Hurt in the last recruiting cycle and has started to add players with height, length and legit shooting ability as often as possible.
Clemence is the latest and perhaps most obvious Jayhawk in that mold. And he absolutely loves the way the game has changed.
“When I was little, they would just put me in the post because I was always the tallest player,” recalled Clemence, who said he started playing basketball at age 8. “But I’ve always been drawn to playing on the perimeter and shooting the ball.”
Kevin Garnett he is not. But that’s the idea here.
Even if Clemence won’t say it.
His Sunrise Academy coach, however, doesn’t mind. Luke Barnwell told the Journal-World on Monday that the coaching staff often teases Clemence that he’s the spitting image of Portland big man Zach Collins.
“He has the same name, kind of looks like him and kind of plays like him,” Barnwell said. “We kind of give him a hard time, saying, ‘Hey, that’s your big brother. You play like him a little bit, can shoot it, can handle it, post and are kind of fiery competitive at times, too.’”
There certainly are worse comparisons.
After a solid one-year career at Gonzaga, Collins, a lottery pick, has been a strong contributor for the Trailblazers during the past few seasons, with the 2019-20 season being by far his best. Before the season was put on hold in March, Collins was averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds per game while shooting 47% from the floor and a career-best 43% from 3-point range.
Another player whose name came up in the conversation with Barnwell was former KU All-American Dedric Lawson.
Barnwell said Lawson was craftier in the post and a little bigger than Clemence, but that Clemence shoots it better and is more explosive than Lawson.
“He probably saw that that position was a valuable position for what coach Self does offensively,” Barnwell said of Clemence’s thinking.
Whether you’re talking Garnett, Hurt, Collins, Lawson or any other player who belongs on that list, they all are obvious examples of basketball’s latest trend.
“Where the game is going, Zach’s value is high,” Barnwell said. “The game is going positionless and all five spots have to be able to shoot and Zach’s smart enough to know that being a big that has complete versatility is something of great value right now.”
Barnwell said he thought that one of the biggest influences in the changing role of basketball's big man was the rise of highly skilled European players at the NBA level. And he added that there were some Euro tendencies in Clemence’s game, as well.
“Just a utility man,” Barnwell said. “You look at him and he kind of looks a little goofy, but he’s just really good at a lot of things.”
Beyond that, Barnwell said Clemence, who “works his tail off,” will quickly become a player that Kansas enjoy following.
“You always root for kids like that, and KU fans are going to love him,” Barnwell said. “He’s got such a great smile and he’s a joy to be around and a joy to coach.”