Thursday September 10th, 2009

The latest subject of our Hoops Q&A series is Kansas State's Denis Clemente, a 6-foot-1 senior guard from Bayamon, Puerto Rico. He played his first two seasons at Miami, then transferred to K-State after being dismissed from the Hurricanes in 2007. Last season he led the Wildcats in scoring (15.0 points per game) and assists (3.5 per game) as they finished 21-12 and fell just short of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Luke Winn: You got Internet Famous this summer for your absurd trick shot off the backboard, off the floor, and in. [See the YouTube below.] How many tries did it take you to make that?

Denis Clemente: My first time when I did it, it took me only until my second chance. When we had the video camera on, it took me like 30 minutes.

LW: After the shot goes in, your teammate who's holding the camera, Victor Ojeleye, yells, "Let's go! Let's go, boy! I see you, boy!" Not exactly "Do you believe in miracles?" What's your feeling on the quality of his commentary?

DC: I mean, I was so excited I had no idea what he was going to say. It took us 30 minutes of taping! I was starting to get upset, asking myself, "Why can't I make this shot anymore?" And so when I finally did, we all went crazy.

LW: Where did the idea for the shot come from?

DC: We were just playing H-O-R-S-E that day and I tried to make something up. I looked up at the screen [on the scoreboard] and said, "Damn, why can't that happen?"

LW: If I played H-O-R-S-E against you, what else would you try?

DC: I've made two full-court shots -- from the out-of-bounds line on the other side -- in a row. I thought that was impossible.

LW: I heard a rumor this summer that you'd been offered a pro contract in Puerto Rico and at least considered accepting it and skipping your senior year at Kansas State. How much truth was there to that?

DC: I had some comments about it. I have friends that play in the pro leagues there, that I grew up with, and they told me that a couple of teams were talking about me. After this season, we'll see what can happen. I'll think about playing in Puerto Rico, because I want to play in front of my family and my fans.

LW: But did you think about actually turning pro early?

DC: I did think about it a little bit, because of the economic problems my family has. It would have been a way to get money for them. We have three children, me, and my brother and my sister. I talked to coach [Frank Martin] about it for a little bit, but I think it wasn't the right time to leave just for a couple of dollars. Even my coach said, "Stay one more year and if you do everything right, maybe you have a chance [at the NBA]". And that made me think a lot, and I thought that's true, if I put everything into this year, I might have a chance to play anywhere.

LW: What's a normal contract like for a Puerto Rican pro team, anyway?

DC: For a rookie salary, it's $25,000.

LW: Did you go home to visit, at least, this summer?

DC: I went back for 14 days, but mostly I just stayed [in the U.S.] and got better. Where I live in Puerto Rico, in that neighborhood, there's always trouble around, so I didn't want to be around it. I worked out [in Manhattan], went to Attack Athletics in Chicago for a little bit, and the Amare Stoudemire camp in Phoenix.

LW: You'll get to go back home, with the Wildcats, for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November. There'll be one highly ranked team in the field -- Villanova. People are looking at K-State as kind of a fringe Top 25 team right now, so you could make a statement there. Where should you start the season ranked, though?

DC: I can't tell you about that. I just know if we play well, we can be a top-10 team, because we've got potential. We've got potential to beat anybody this year, and go to the NCAA tournament.

LW: Your rival, Kansas, seems like it's going to be the consensus No. 1 team in the country coming into next season. Do you agree with the Jayhawks being No. 1?

DC: I just play for Kansas State, so I don't know. But if people say they're No. 1, then they're No. 1. I do know that we get to play them twice, so we'll see what happens. It's a great rivalry. People from there don't like K-State players, and people from here don't like Kansas players.

LW: Speaking of that ... I'm assuming you're particularly despised by KU fans after the incident last February when you elbowed Brady Morningstar [and slapped Tyrel Reed]. In the days after that game, you said the elbow was a "respect" thing, that you had to protect your home court. Can you explain what that meant?

DC: What I mean is, nobody can come into this building and disrespect me. This is my house. This is my gym. Kansas State, Bramlage Coliseum, this is my gym. I don't think anybody has spent more time than me in this gym. I'm here every day. Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes it's midnight Saturday and I'll be at the gym. People think I'm crazy, but I'm not. This is what I do.

LW: There was the whole other controversy from that game in which a writer from a K-State fan site alleged there were some racial slurs coming from the KU bench. Did that actually happen?

DC: No, no, they're not like that. I mean, fans sometimes say crazy things and you learn not to listen to them, but no, [the KU people] didn't say anything like that.

LW: Now for some questions about the season ahead. I got to see your top-ranked freshman, Wally Judge, at the Jordan Classic in New York, and a bunch of his peers there said he was the best dunker in the entire class of 2009. What have you seen out of Wally so far?

DC: He's a freak athlete. He can run the floor, he can dunk, he can shoot. I think he's going to be pretty good this season. He and Rodney McGruder. He's such a good player, too. They're athletic, and they can shoot the ball, they do a lot of things that can help the team.

LW: Who's going to be the biggest surprise this season?

DC: I think Wally Judge. He's going to be the biggest one.

LW: And what about Curtis Kelly? He kind of resurfacing into the college hoops world after leaving UConn two years ago.

DC: He can do a lot of things for a big man. He can post, he can handle the ball, get rebounds. He knows how to play with his back to the basket and from the front, too.

LW: It seems like you're going to have far more options on offense this season than you did in '08-09. Is it unlikely that we'll see another 44-point game out of you, like the one you had [on 25 shot attempts] in that overtime win over Texas on Jan. 31?

DC: I have more options. But I mean, if you're making the shots, you have to keep shooting. I'm not saying I'm hoping to break records -- that's not my goal, my goal is to go to the NCAA and win the Big 12. But if you have to score 30 to win, then you have to do it. If you're hot, then forget about it! You keep shooting.

LW: You wear number 21 for your relative, Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente. He passed away long before you were born, but what would your family members tell you about him?

DC: Everyone would say how he was such a good human being. That he helped people. That he was one of the most humble people you could meet [in Puerto Rico]. He died trying to help people, because when the earthquake happened in Nicaragua in 1972, on December 22, he was trying to go there to bring food and medicine. And the airplane was so overweight, that's why it crashed. He was a great human being.

LW: What was the extent of your baseball career?

DC: I played until I was 11 years old. Then it was all basketball. At that age I think I was better at baseball, but in basketball, there was more stuff to do. There was more movement. That's why I picked it.

LW: You're regarded as one of the fastest players in college hoops. What other speedy players have you been impressed with?

DC: When I was at Miami, it was Sean Singletary [from Virginia]. Last year, Ty Lawson from North Carolina. I played [against] him in high school and college; I scored 40 points once against his team in high school. But right now [among current players] it's the point guard from Michigan State, [Kalin] Lucas.

LW: You're listed at 6-foot-1, 175. How many Denis Clementes could fit into one Frank Martin suit?

DC: Maybe nine? Nine Denis Clementes could fit. I'm joking, though! He's going to kill me for saying that.

LW: Can you explain the tattoo you have covering your left shoulder?

DC: It's my Puerto Rican flag, with a heart inside that has a Jesus crown [of thorns] around it, to show the pain in my heart. And then there's a basketball, in the center, coming out of that. I have my grandmother's name on there, and my mother's name, too. That tattoo is everything about my life.

LW: You recite family members' names before you shoot free throws, too, right?

DC: I say four names. I say Mami, for my mom, Raquel. Then Papi, for my dad, Pablo. Then Giovani, for my brother, and Leslie, for my sister.

LW: And they're all in Puerto Rico?

DC: They're all in Puerto Rico. When you go to another country and you're by yourself, you try to make it feel like your family is there with you. When I play, I play for them.

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