Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Growing up in western Australia and spending much of her youth playing at the beach and swimming in the Indian Ocean, Emma Clarke had a good idea of what she wanted in a college.
So, when Clarke was talking to Colorado women’s basketball coach JR Payne this spring and asked, “Are you anywhere near water?,” Payne had to pause.
“Uh, no we’re not,” Payne had to tell her.
Clarke signed anyway, and during her official visit in May, Boulder went through a cold and rainy spell.
“Coach does it get colder here?” a chilly Clarke asked Payne.
“I looked at her,” Payne said, “and was like, ‘Yes, it does.'”
No, Boulder isn’t quite like Perth, Australia, which features stunning beaches and mild winters, but there was something about the city and the women’s basketball team that attracted Clarke anyway.
“After I re-evaluated what I want, I was like, ‘This could not be better,'” Clarke said. “There’s no pace I would rather be than here.”
CU is just as excited about the true freshman, who, at 6-foot-1, has the size to play forward, but the skills to play guard and help the Buffs in a variety of ways. Although the Buffs have talented upperclassmen at guard, Clarke has the tools to push for significant playing time next season.
“She is really good,” Payne said. “She can do everything. She can handle the ball for her size, she can shoot the 3, she can pull up. Aussies are known in the basketball world for being extremely skilled but also a little nasty; they play physically and they’re gritty and not afraid of contact. She’s going to be really good.”
The first Australian player in CU women’s basketball history, Clarke very nearly wound up at a beach school.
In January, she took official visits to Long Beach State, Cal Poly, Hawaii and UC-Santa Barbara. She almost signed her letter of intent with UCSB before the Gauchos went through a coaching change and lost several players to transfer.
“I opened my recruiting, heard from Colorado and, honestly after the first conversation I was like, ‘Mom, I think this is it,'” Clarke said.
Payne’s friends in the coaching community insisted Clarke was a perfect fit for CU. One of those friends was Long Beach State head coach Jeff Cammon, who was an assistant under Payne at CU during the 2016-17 season. He recruited Clarke and knew exactly the type of player Payne was looking to bring to Boulder.
“You can look at Emma and know she’s our prototypical player – really long and lean and athletic,” Payne said.
When the CU coaching staff began talking with Clarke and her family, there was an instant connection.
“It just seemed like it was a really great fit from the beginning,” Payne said.
While Clarke will have to get used to the colder weather and lack of beach access, she comes to CU with an impressive basketball resume.
A graduate of Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence, Clarke once scored 42 points in an under-16 game at the Australian Junior Championships. At the under-18 Australian Junior Championships, she was the top scorer (21.9 points per game).
In 2017, Clarke helped Australia’s under-17 team win gold at the FIBA Oceania Championships. She was named to the All-Star 5 after posting 18 points, 7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
Clarke is hoping to be selected for the under-18 team that will play in the FIBA Asia championships in India in October. Her ultimate goal is to represent Australia in the Olympics.
Not bad for someone who started playing the game at nine and “absolutely hated it” in the beginning, she said.
Clarke has certainly changed her opinion of basketball and is eager to experience the game in a completely new environment and with teammates she’s already grown to love.
“It’s been such an easy transition,” she said. “I haven’t one time questioned, why am I here? I think I really fit into this squad.
“I’ve never been more excited to start something.”