CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Kihei Clark may never surpass his biggest highlight in Virginia basketball history, but having the 5-foot-10 point guard in the No. 10 Cavaliers lineup could certainly give him another chance .
In 2019, during an Elite Eight bout with Purdue, the then-rookie chased a missed free throw well past the centerline, turning and feeding Mamadi Diakite for a summer-beat jumper that sent the game into overtime. The Cavaliers won and then went on to win the first national championship in program history.
“The Shot” was only possible because of “The Pass”.
Now in his fifth season, Clark is using an extra year of eligibility to climb several of Virginia’s career lists and potentially lead them in another deep tournament run. He’ll continue that pursuit on Saturday when the Cavaliers (14-3, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) play at Wake Forest (14-5, 6-2).
Clark moved to the top of the Cavaliers’ career wins list Wednesday with 111 players, one more than Diakite. His 65 ACC wins are also the most in program history.
These and other milestones almost didn’t happen. After last season, Clark posted a goodbye message to Virginia fans on Twitter and then changed his mind.
With Reece Beekman seemingly ready to take the lead in backcourt for the Cavaliers, coach Tony Bennett knows Clark’s worth.
“A man his size doesn’t get where he is without a wild side about him, a competitor, and he wants to win. And he’s done that for most of his career, but he’s still trainable,” Bennett said. “It’s good to have him back for sure. I’m glad he made that decision.”
Bennett often uses taller guards to play at the high post, although he’ll field Clark there too, giving him plenty of playtime.
“Sometimes you want some of his better decision makers or guards at that high post… I thought he made a really good game,” Bennett said after the Georgia Tech win 74-56.
“He was in control of his game. Sometimes you watch someone and they’re in control of their game, and he only had it when he was on track, the decisions that he was making,” Bennett said.
Virginia Tech’s Mike Young saw it firsthand in a 78-68 loss on Wednesday night.
“He’s waiting for you,” Young said, recalling several passes Clark made on his way to a season-high 20 points and five assists on the lane. “He’s waiting for someone to blink.”
Young will face Clark again when Virginia goes to Blacksburg. Other coaches have used the post-game handshake lines to share their admiration.
“I told him last year after we played him in Harrisonburg, I told him he was one of my favorite players in college and I thought that was goodbye. And then he’ll come back for sure this year,” James Madison coach Mark Byington said after Virginia’s win that year, in which Clark had 18 points and seven assists. “So this time I told him … ‘Look, I better never see you’re back in college basketball.'”
Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton said after being beaten 62-57 that Clark “is almost flawless as a point guard … and he’s one of those guys that doesn’t come along very often.”
“I told him as I shook his hand, ‘I’ll be glad if you go.'” Hamilton said. “He smiled.”
Clark appreciated the kind words.
“Obviously you’re doing something right when they don’t want to play you,” he said.
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