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.”