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On Pins Like Needles The spindly gams of newcomer Keon Clark have given the Raptors a lift

March 19, 2001
March 19, 2001

Table of Contents
March 19, 2001

Inside Boxing

On Pins Like Needles The spindly gams of newcomer Keon Clark have given the Raptors a lift

Beanpoles. Nine-irons. Dipsticks. Pipe cleaners. You name it, and
Raptors reserve forward Keon Clark has heard it about his legs,
which are so slender that they make his size-16 high-tops look
like clown shoes. Good-natured about his extreme lower
extremities, Clark prefers a more flattering comparison. "My legs
pack a lot of power," he says. "I call them my rocket boosters."

This is an article from the March 19, 2001 issue

Clark has achieved liftoff with the Raptors, who acquired him
from the Nuggets in a six-player trade on Jan. 12. Endowed with a
40-inch vertical leap and an 89-inch wingspan, Clark is giving
Vince Carter a run for his money as Toronto's most
highlight-worthy dunker. "I especially like the follow-ups,"
Clark says. "I can get free for those because teams key on
Vince."

In time, opponents may have to key on Keon. Deceptively strong at
6'11" and 220 pounds--"Think of me as a greyhound, baby," he
says--through Sunday he was averaging 9.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and
2.50 blocks in 22.4 minutes as a Raptor, surpassing his
production in Denver in every category. Clark's touch in the low
post has impressed Toronto coach Lenny Wilkens enough to call
plays for him, something Dan Issel seldom did in Denver. When
Clark scored 15 points, including two swooping dunks, swatted
five shots and grabbed seven boards in Toronto's 99-92 win over
the Nuggets on Feb. 8, he couldn't contain his glee. On several
trips downcourt he winked at Issel and thanked him for making the
trade. "It was great seeing Dan get mad because of me and not at
me," Clark says.

Clark's path to the pros was as unlikely as his physique is
ungainly. He was a happy-go-lucky kid at Danville (Ill.) High, as
interested in watching cartoons and making stink bombs as he was
in playing basketball. Still good enough to earn a scholarship to
Temple, Clark went to Irvine (Calif.) Valley College because he
hadn't passed enough core courses. He left after one season when
money got tight and returned to Danville to work as a hospital
orderly. Encouraged by UNLV, which had recruited him out of high
school, Clark did a stint at Dixie College in St. George, Utah,
then joined the Rebels. In his senior season, scouts pegged him
as a high lottery pick, but his stock dropped when he tested
positive for marijuana. "That was immaturity," says Clark, who
was chosen 13th by the Magic in 1998 before being traded to
Denver.

At 25 he's still very much in touch with his inner child. With
the Nuggets, Clark was known to steal locker room lightbulbs,
start food fights and "generally keep things loose," as Denver
center Raef LaFrentz puts it. Says Toronto center Antonio Davis,
"Keon's been a great fit, the way he's played with so much
energy. But how he does it on those long, skinny legs, I'll never
know."

--L. Jon Wertheim

COLOR PHOTO: JESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBA ENTERTAINMENT