Meet Skyy Clark, The Next Kyrie Irving | ClutchPoints

Meet Skyy Clark, The Next Kyrie Irving

By Jack Winter

When Skyy Clark soon takes the floor for the first time with Montverde Academy, he won’t just be following in the footsteps of alumni like Cade Cunningham, Ben Simmons and D’Angelo Russell as the star floor general for the country’s premier prep hoops powerhouse. Clark’s Montverde debut will be the culmination of what can only be described as one of the most difficult years of his young life.

“It’s been really tough,” he told ClutchPoints, “just not having basketball. It’s really the first time I haven’t been able to play.”

Clark last played organized basketball on January 22nd, leading Nashville’s Ensworth School to a 70-58 victory over Baylor. He dropped 34 points in the game, showing off the smooth three-level scoring ability and all-court playmaking flare that helped make him the first commit of Kentucky’s ballyhooed 2022 recruiting class—not to mention a consensus top-20 player nationwide.

Clark shot 12-of-19 from the field. He pulled up from deep off the bounce for three effortless triples. He led a relentless transition attack, pressured the ball high up the floor defensively and even took two charges, exhibiting the competitive fire and team-first attitude that have been hallmarks of Clark’s game ever since he established himself as a force on the youth basketball scene in grade school.

His standout performance was all the more impressive considering hadn’t played in nearly three weeks, quarantining at home as a close contact to COVID-19. Clark originally contracted the virus in February 2020, suffering “terrible” symptoms. His father, Kenny, spent Christmas morning away from the family in isolation after testing positive in mid-December. Clark’s younger sister became the sixth member of his immediate family to contract coronavirus shortly thereafter.

On January 30th, Clark announced on Twitter that he and his younger brother, ZZ, would forego 

the remainder of the high school basketball season due to concerns about COVID-19. They’d been mulling that drastic decision since their father came down with coronavirus, steeled that it was the right one due to non-existent mandates on indoor mask-wearing as case counts exploded in Tennessee. 

“Most of the gyms are packed, especially when we play,” Clark, a proud Southern California native, said in February. “Out here in Tennessee, it’s kind of like living normal life. There’s really not a lot of restrictions.”

Doing his part to stop the spread hardly meant Clark, who committed to Kentucky in October 2020, would rest on his basketball laurels, though. He went through rigorous two-a-day workouts in the weight room and on the practice floor for the remainder of his junior year, prepping for a final summer circuit that seemed poised to vault him even further up recruiting rankings in the high school Class of 2022.

On July 3rd, during his second practice with grassroots powerhouse MOKAN in preparation for Peach Jam, Clark’s left foot snagged on the hardwood while competing in a 5-on-5 defensive drill. As his body tumbled forward, Clark’s left leg hyperextended the other direction, leaving him crumpled in pain in a suddenly silent gym.

“He just dropped like someone had shot him,” said Kenny Clark, who was watching from the stands next to 13-year NBA veteran Larry Hughes. 

MOKAN coach Anthony Perry eventually helped Clark hobble off the floor. As team coaches and trainers instinctively grabbed ice to combat swelling for what Hughes had been confident was a sprained ankle, Clark began to realize the extent of his injury. This wasn’t just another turned ankle, or even a tweaked knee.

“Dad. Nah, nah,” Clark said, looking up at his father while laid out on the sidelines. “Something’s wrong. This ain’t a regular knee injury.”

Clark was rushed to a nearby imaging center for an MRI on his left knee. Doctors first told him there was no structural or ligament damage beyond a meniscus injury, but later called back to clarify that his ACL had also been compromised. Not content with a single opinion, the Clarks sought advice from four additional doctors who all offered the same diagnosis. 

Clark underwent surgery to repair his torn ACL on July 23rd. His surgeon stressed that not only had Clark avoided any additional tearing in his knee, but with an intensive rehabilitation program, would eventually be back on the floor stronger and more athletic than ever.

Being forced to spend even more time away from the game he loves was a tough pill for Clark to swallow. It had been nearly six months since he last played a competitive basketball game, and even the swiftest timeline for a full recovery placed Clark’s earliest possible return at January 2022.

“There was nobody around him,” Kenny Clark said of his son’s injury. “It was just a freak injury that just happens. There wasn’t anybody within six feet of him.”

Even at such a young age, Clark has never much concerned himself with factors outside his control. He made the best out of a bad situation last winter as COVID-19 ravaged Tennessee, continuing to hone his developing game while sitting out his junior season through diligent, specialized training sessions. 

Clark’s approach to rehab from a significant injury, unsurprisingly, proved no different. He was front-squatting at his family’s home gym three weeks after going under the knife. By late August, Clark was splashing stationary jumpers while shuffling into his shooting form with a resistance band around his legs. He was jogging in a straight line barely more than two months removed from surgery.

Clark’s road to recovery has been even smoother since he arrived at Montverde Academy for his final year of high school. He’s doing daily post-class workouts with school athletic trainer Jason Torres, as well as individual basketball sessions.

Clearly, Clark’s tenacious approach to rehab is paying off. The big-bodied guard has lost 12 pounds since the surgery, helping his explosiveness already reach pre-injury levels.

“He be kicking my butt every single day,” Clark said of Torres. “We’ve been doing a lot running and jumping lately, just straight-line running. My standing vertical before I got hurt was 33 inches, and I just recorded a 33-inch vert—that’s three months after surgery. I still got another three months to go so I’m hoping to boost it another three, four inches.”

Montverde, arguably the most talent high school team in the country, tipped off its season the week before Thanksgiving. If Clark’s rehab continues on its current trajectory, there’s a chance he could join fellow blue-chip recruits Dariq Whitehead (Duke), Vincent Iwuchukwu (USC), Dillon Mitchell (Texas) and the rest of his teammates for a rematch of last season’s GEICO Nationals title game against Sunrise Christian Academy on January 6th. 

Even if he’s not quite ready to play in that nationally-televised matchup, Clark will have ample opportunity to prove to fans across the country that he’s better than ever upon making his Montverde debut. The Eagles’ schedule might be the toughest in the country, but that shouldn’t prevent them from making another run at a national title come early Spring. 

Whenever he makes his long-awaited return to the floor, with the chance to prove he really is better than ever, Clark won’t just have his family to thank for the resolve that allowed him to attack his time away from the game with such focused tenacity. His new teammates at Montverde deserve some of that credit, too.

“My parents definitely instilled a sense of drive into me,” Clark said. “They’ve always told me, ‘Never let something get in your way. Whatever adversity you find in your life, just push through it.’ But another thing that has really been helping is the support I’ve been receiving from my teammates at Montverde. They’ve been nothing but supportive through the whole thing and it makes me wanna get back and play with them that much more.”

The path that landed Clarke at Montverde and will take him to Lexington next season began in Minneapolis, where his dad played three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings in the early 2000s. A wide receiver and kick returner, Kenny Clark caught passes in practice from his cousin, Vikings franchise quarterback Daunte Culpepper, a two-time Pro Bowler. 

But it was his uncle, Steve Rhem, a former wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, whose athletic exploits helped a young Skyy see his dreams of athletic stardom could become reality.

“He was like LeBron,” Clark says of Rhem. “He could play any sport—basketball, football, baseball. He probably could’ve gone pro at swimming or tennis if he wanted.”

Clark recalls “blowing up” on the national youth hoops scene as a sixth-grader. His first D-1 scholarship offer came two years later. He led Southern California’s Heritage Christian High School to a 24-6 record as a freshman, winning league Defensive MVP honors and pacing the Warriors in scoring. Clark suited up with Strive For Greatness on the AAU circuit the following summer, taking cues from part-time coach LeBron James.

Despite his pre-teen status as a basketball prodigy, though, it’s a game from Clark’s sophomore year of high school that he counts as truly seminal. 

“The game against Etiwanda was a big-time game. I was at Heritage Christian and we were an up-and-coming team out of the Valley,” he says. “Both teams were undefeated, so it was just a highly-anticipated game. We ended up winning by one. We were the underdogs, and everyone thought we were gonna lose.”

Clark scored a third of his team’s points in a nail-biting 48-47 Heritage Christian victory. After the game, a proud Clark embraced his dad with a note of gratitude: “That was for you, Pops.” It’s a moment Kenny Clark won’t ever forget.

“For Skyy to come over and do that to me gave me chills. It actually brought me to tears,” he says. “It was just one of those moments where you knew that he could be very special. He’s played against a lot of great teams, but that was the best team he’s ever played against. It was just like a culmination of all the hard work and everything that he put in, and it’s been paying off ever since.”

Clark moved to Nashville in summer 2020, honing his craft in high-level local pick-up runs that included Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland and Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington. He exploded for a school-record 51 points in his Ensworth debut, shooting 16-of-25 from the field, splashing five threes and doling out eight assists. 

Clark averaged 26.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season, leading the Tigers to an 8-3 record in games he appeared. Ensworth finished 14-9 overall, going 6-6 without him in the lineup, a ringing endorsement of his all-around impact.

Montverde won’t need Clark to put up those monster numbers to repeat as national champions. The Eagles are stacked with prolific scorers and high-flying athletes up and down the roster. But even superlative collections of talent always benefit from the presence of a floor general, a role Clark is striving to perfect by studying some of the league’s all-time best.

He models his game after pantheon pure point guards like Chris Paul, Steve Nash and John Stockton. Clark embraces frequent and longtime comparisons to Kyrie Irving, stylistic flair honed in part by years of film study on not just modern-day ball-handling wizards like he and Ja Morant, but predecessors like Kenny Anderson. He wears No. 55 because of Jason Williams, and plans to train with “White Chocolate” in Florida this Summer.

Asked which NBA player’s career he’d emulate if he had his absolute druthers, though, Clark paused, thought and ultimately demurred altogether.

“I’m just myself,” he tells ClutchPoints. “I don’t wanna be anybody but me.”

Clark exudes that casual confidence. It’s not hard for an amateur athlete with his work ethic, gene pool and gaudy list of accolades and accomplishments to envision all-time success as a pro.

The matter-of-fact manner he lists his epic NBA desires, though, suggests a clear-eyed understanding of the efforts it will take to achieve them. He wants to win a championship. He wants to be an annual All-Defense selection. He wants to make All-NBA teams. He wants an MVP award.

“I want to do it all,” Clark says.

If he fails to reach those aspirational heights, it definitely won’t be because Clark didn’t put in the work—let alone veered off course because he wasn’t comfortable in the spotlight. 

Gilbert Arenas, a one-time neighbor and longtime family friend, bestowed his iconic “Hibachi” nickname on Clark after watching him splash jumpers at a men’s rec league game when he was little. Clark’s been a staple of viral grassroots highlight videos since his early teens. He has some 257,000 followers on Instagram.

Clark is completely unfazed by the prospect of stardom. Like a select yet notable few of his elite prep basketball peers, he’s felt the heavier weight of that shine for years. Clark, 18, admits that burdens of fame and expectations used to drag him.

“But then I realized all that stuff is just a distraction,” he says, “and could keep me from reaching my goals.”

Clark’s sense of self is observed through that magnifying glass. He’s into fashion and a regular thrift shopper, comparing his style to that of Shae Gilgeous-Alexander’s. Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye and Tyler, The Creator are among his favorite musicians. He’s hooked on old Fresh Prince re-runs. Pinned to Clark’s Instagram is a photo tribute to ‘Domo,’ a mustachioed, teeth-bearing stuffed animal he sometimes puts in his shirt pocket.

Clark already has a tattoo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He has plans for a sprawling “Black excellence” portrait on his back, featuring L.A. icons Kobe Bryant and Nipsey Hussle. 

Only five-star recruits get early offers from Kentucky, but Clark’s game isn’t the only thing that made him such an obvious target for John Calipari. The Wildcats pressure cooker can be too much for some players; their coaching staff know it won’t be for Clark.

“He’s the type of kid who has the right mindset and demeanor for what this is, and that’s one of the things that’s really important when it comes to recruiting at Kentucky,” says Lucas. “This isn’t like everywhere else. You also have to have a different type of makeup to be successful here, and Skyy has it.”

Clark’s blend of talent, work ethic and personality have made him a consummate team leader at point guard for years. There’s a chance his NBA destiny is as a microwave combo guard, but Clark, 6’3’’ and a sturdy 200 pounds, will only scrape the ceiling of his utmost potential as a primary ball-handler who bites off the head of the snake on the other side of the floor.

The bluest of blue blood programs in college basketball, however, have the luxury of putting even high-profile freshmen like Clark in a more limited role. Devin Booker, Tyler Herro and Tyrese Maxey weren’t offensive alpha dogs at Kentucky, and he won’t be, either.

Clark’s favorite superhero is Batman. Pressed by his dad to instead favor an otherworldly DC Comics friend and foe, Superman, he justifies his choice by alluding to Batman’s endless collection of high-tech weapons and gadgets.

Clark’s bloodlines may have seemed to preordain his athletic prowess. Indeed, his thick frame, long arms and smooth, explosive movements with and without the ball in his hands make it no surprise to learn Clark comes from a family of pros.

His pedigree doesn’t come up in conversation with him, though, and Clark certainly hasn’t taken for granted the work necessary to live up to it. Those countless early mornings, multi-day workouts and extra reps of rehab exercises have helped Clark develop the deep package of tools and tricks needed to thrive doing whatever the Wildcats or any other team will ask of him.

Clark can take out adversaries through pretty much whatever means he wants or the circumstances call, not unlike his favorite superhero. In Lexington, that all-court versatility will be used to help the star-laden Wildcats’ whole become even bigger than the sum of their parts.

“Skyy is somebody that we see as a point guard who can score. Somebody that can also play on and off the ball, but one of the things that he does really good is be able to create his own shot and create shots for his teammates,” Lucas says. “That’s the one thing with the way the game is going and how it’s being played now is having two or three guys who can do that and being able to play them at the same time. His body type, his size, his strength, his physicality gives him the ability to be able to do that at a high level.”

Clark, of course, isn’t a hooping Caped Crusader. He isn’t “Skyy-rie,” a popular moniker made famous by an old coach evoking the Brooklyn Nets superstar. He’s not “Shyy” Gilgeous-Alexander no matter how many social media users comment on his posts with the pun, either.

Clark is no one but himself, a reality Montverde will only come to know best soon, and millions of other fans are bound to learn as basketball takes him to Kentucky and beyond.

“His personality and his game match. He’s an exciting, upbeat person, and he plays that way. He’s entertaining, he’s fun to watch and he competes,” Lucas says of Clark. “That’s a big, big reason why we wanted him here, and a big reason why we’re excited about him coming here, because he plays the game the right way and he plays to win. Those are the qualities any team needs.”