When he got to South Carolina powerhouse Dorman High School, Noah Clowney was carrying just 180 pounds on an ever growing frame, and in practice that was all he had to go up against the best post player in the state of South Carolina.
P.J. Hall, now a 6-foot-10, 235-pound center at Clemson, paired with now-Butler point guard Myles Tate, led Dorman to back-to-back Class 5A state titles, and skinny Clowney had no chance at playing time with Hall ahead of him on the depth chart.
“I used to get thrown around by P.J,” Clowney said. “I was a little twig. But I’m getting stronger, and as I’m getting stronger, I’m getting smarter.”
Clowney is 6-foot-10 himself now and up to 220 pounds with room to grow, and college programs are starting to get a sense that Clowney could be just as special as Hall if not more so. He’s not yet rated in the 247Sports.com composite rankings, which combine the rankings of numerous recruiting services, but 247Sports itself has Clowney as a three-star and rising. Indiana recently offered him a scholarship, allowing the Hoosiers to join the ranks of Virginia Tech, Xavier and Georgia Tech who have also offered him early.
Clowney’s coaches — especially Demond Stephens, his coach with the Atlanta based travel program Upward Stars — believe that’s just the beginning. They expect to see his recruiting attention explode by the end of this summer as he gets to show off an expanding skill set along with his size and athleticism.
“I call him the cleanest, meanest kid,” Stephens said. “He’s so clean, but in that hour of the game he’s so mean and aggressive. He doesn’t talk like Kevin Garnett, but he’s like him in that he’s the meanest guy when the game’s going on. This is the highest compliment I can give him. He’s an athletic version of Anthony Davis with Kevin Garnett’s mind. He’s mean like Garnett, but he’s bigger than Garnett. He’s like AD’s size with shoulders, and he’s got all those skills. There’s nothing that’s not in his game.”
Putting an under-the-radar recruit on the level of NBA All-Stars and likely Hall-of-Famers with championship rings on their fingers seems more than a little over the top. But video of Clowney shows a player with a lot of athleticism and an expanding skill set that makes him difficult to deal with whether he’s posting up, facing up, or protecting the rim on the other end.
“He’s long, runs the floor well, 4/5 rim runner who faces up, has good touch,” said Dorman coach Thomas Ryan. “He’s developing a perimeter game to go along with that size. Noah is just blossoming. His best basketball is definitely ahead of him as he starts to fill into his body and his hand-eye coordination and things continue to improve. He has improved drastically over the last year or so.”
Clowney averaged a modest 10 points and eight rebounds per game this season with Dorman, but he shot 60 percent from the field and helped the squad reach another Class 5A state title game. On a loaded squad, he showed off only so much of his skill set.
With his size he played mostly with his back to the basket, but he’s become more and more comfortable attacking off the bounce, whether that’s from the perimeter, from a face-up position in mid-range or out of a high- or mid-post position. He can also handle the ball in transition and doesn’t have a problem taking one or two dribbles going downhill before going up for a dunk.
“I don’t plan to be taking 17 dribbles to get open,” Clowney said. “I’m more of a guy who takes one or two dribbles and goes. I like facing up, a jab-step and go type of guy. If I’m going toward the lane and a smaller guard hits the ball away before I bring it high, I hate when that happens so I’m trying to get that together. I’m trying to do anything to prevent a turnover.”
He’s a willing passer and he’s trying to become a more willing outside shooter. Ryan said he attempted about 10 3-pointers this season in high school play and hit about three of them, but Stephens wants him to take more of those shots in travel ball and Clowney feels more comfortable doing so in that setting, especially with the way he’s shot so far this spring.
“I’ve always felt like I could shoot the ball,” Clowney said. “But right now it’s the best it’s ever been. Playing at Dorman, I was playing in a system, and I felt like if I was missing I was hurting my team more than I was helping. I didn’t shoot as many shots. But when AAU came, I gotta show people what I can do. In high school, I want to win more, and I want to win in general, but I have to show people I can shoot. And I’m doing a lot of shooting. I’m putting up 75 3-balls, at least, a day.”
Clowney is already an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder, but he’s also trying to expand his defensive game so he can defend more positions and handle switches against pick-and-rolls. His length helps him keep smaller guards in front of him to a degree, and he can frequently just swat 3-balls into the stands to keep those opponents from getting much done, but he admits that he can have trouble defending quick guards 6-2 or under.
“He anticipates well,” Ryan said. “I think shot-blocking along with your length, is about knowing how to anticipate and when to leave your feet. I think Noah still has to learn how to defend without fouling. … Our strength coaches are working with him more on his lateral movement. Right now I think he’s more of a rim protector, but if he wants to be that stretch 4, he’s going to have to guard someone on the perimeter. He knows that and we’re working hard to improve that.”
Clowney is trying to add that agility while also adding more weight. For as much weight as he has put on since he has arrived at Dorman, it’s clear that he’s not totally filled out yet. Ryan thinks he needs to bulk up to around 245 by his freshman year in college and Clowney agrees.
“That’s a priority to me,” Clowney said. “If I just keep progressing like I have, keep on eating and keep on lifting, I can be where I want to be. I want to be solid enough to where, when I make a move, I can stay on balance and I can’t get knocked off. I want to be sturdy. But I don’t want to be too big to where I lose my mobility. So right around 240, that would be good.”
That would put Clowney at about the same dimensions as current center Trayce Jackson-Davis, but a little bit taller. The vision Indiana coach Mike Woodson provided Clowney for how he would be used in Woodson’s offense was very similar to the one Woodson gave to Jackson-Davis to convince him to stay for his junior year.
“He wants to bring an NBA style to college basketball,” Clowney said. “Because I’m versatile, he thinks I’d be able to play in his system very well. … He showed me a lot of pick-and-roll where I’d get lob opportunities, a lot of one-on-one face-up opportunities, he thinks I could take a lot of people one-on-one. He showed me, along with that pick-and-roll, a lot of slips and pick-and-pops as well to switch it up. And then he told me, if any situation when I get a rebound, he wants me to get to a point where I’m comfortable with the ball, so when I get it, I bring the ball up and initiate the offense. Don’t wait for nobody. He specifically said, ‘If you bring the ball up the floor and no one else is running with you, just go all the way.’ He said ‘If you go all the way every time, they’re going to start running with you because they want to score the ball too.'”
Woodson might not yet see the NBA All-Star in Clowney that Stephens sees, but he does see a player who can make an impact in the Big Ten.
“Mike sees the talent in the boy,” Stephens said. “He said to me, ‘I don’t know what he can’t do, coach, so I’d rather find out on the fly.'”
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