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On October 2nd, 2017, Kihei Clark became the second commitment in the Virginia men’s basketball 2018 recruiting class, joining Kody Stattmann (and later, Francisco Caffarro).
Clark, a three-star point guard from the Taft School in Woodland Hills, California, had originally committed to play basketball at UC Davis.
But, after a fantastic summer in 2017 on the AAU circuit in which Clark led the Oakland Soldiers to the Peach Jam Championship and scored 18 points in the title game, Clark decommitted from UC Davis and reopened his recruitment.
Tony Bennett had already experienced tremendous success recruiting another relatively unknown and undersized point guard from California in London Perrantes. He decided to test his luck once again with the 5’9” Clark.
“What I love about London and Kihei, they weren’t really highly touted,” Bennett said at the time. “But they were good. They have a good basketball nose. And yeah, he’s 5’9” and so many people get caught up in dimensions, and there’s value and importance in that, but toughness, quickness, feel, savvy, those things are there.”
Bennett went on to compare Clark to Muggsy Bogues, who was teammates with Tony Bennett in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets.
“When you see someone who has ‘it’ and has that kind of heart and determination, that sold me,” Bennett added.
Bennett made the offer and Clark committed to Virginia on October 2nd, 2017.
Clark is still adding to his college career accomplishments as he enters his fourth season at Virginia, but he has already stamped himself as a legend in the history of the UVA men’s basketball program.
Clark immediately made an impact as a freshman, as he played a significant role as a ball handler and facilitator to allow Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome to operate off-ball and get open shots. He was also a factor on the defensive end with his quickness and on-ball pressure.
Of course, Clark is immortalized for his role in one of the greatest plays in the history of Virginia basketball. With Virginia’s season hanging in the balance as the Hoos trailed Purdue by two points in the Elite Eight of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Mamadi Diakite tapped out Ty Jerome’s missed free throw and Kihei Clark chased down the ball past half court, before firing a one-handed pass all the way back down the court to Diakite, who nailed the jumper as time expired to send the game into overtime and save UVA’s season.
The most impressive part of the play was the poise Clark showed as a freshman to not heave up a desperate shot from half court or pass to Kyle Guy or Ty Jerome on the wings, who would have done the same. Instead, he ignored the calls from Guy and Jerome to pass them the ball and found Diakite for a much higher percentage shot.
Clark’s pass to Diakite in the Elite Eight gets all the love, but Clark has been no stranger to clutch moments in his UVA career since then, including several big time plays at the end of a number of close games in ACC play in the 2019-2020 season.
On January 28th, Virginia upset then-No. 5 Florida State as Kihei Clark drove in for a reverse-layup for the game-winner with just less than a minute remaining.
On February 15th, the Cavaliers trailed North Carolina by two points in Chapel Hill with ten seconds remaining. Clark drove past Cole Anthony to the baseline and found Woldetensae in the opposite corner on a bounce pass. Woldetensae pump faked, side-stepped, and then drained a three-pointer to give the Hoos the lead with 0.8 seconds left on the clock. The play also gave us this iconic photo:
Tomas Woldetensae Virginia Cavaliers
Tony Bennett and the rest of UVA’s sideline reacts to Tomas Woldetensae’s game-winning shot against North Carolina on February 15th, 2020.
Photo courtesy of Bon Donnan/USA TODAY Sports
11 days later, Virginia built a lead as large as 15 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. However, the Hokies rallied and briefly took the lead late in the game. A basket from Tyrece Radford tied the game at 53 with 11 seconds remaining. Kihei Clark then dribbled up the floor, crossed over, stepped back, and nailed a clutch three-pointer with just two seconds left to silence the crowd at Cassell Coliseum.
In the regular season finale, Clark iced Virginia’s victory over No. 10 Louisville with a dagger three-pointer with 30 seconds remaining.
Clark was named to the All-ACC Third Team and UVA finished the 2019-2020 season on an eight-game winning streak, before the season came to an end due to the onset of the pandemic.
Last season, Clark added yet another clutch play to his Cavalier résumé in Virginia’s ACC quarterfinal game against Syracuse. With only seconds remaining and the game tied at 69, Clark drove into the middle of the Orange’s 2-3 zone and dished out to a wide open Reece Beekman on the wing. Beekman joined Clark in the class of UVA first years to make legendary plays in their freshman seasons, as he splashed the three-pointer as time expired to give the Hoos the win.
Kihei Clark is one of the best examples of Tony Bennett’s brilliance as a college basketball coach. Bennett finds under-appreciated and undervalued recruits who he feels are good matches for the UVA basketball program and develops them into great players who fulfill important roles in Virginia’s system.
Clark committed to Virginia as a relatively unknown point guard from California and has made several game-winning plays as a leader of the UVA men’s basketball team over the last three years, including one of the greatest plays in the history of the sport.
And he’s not done yet.