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Sam I Am Driven by his relentless coach, Sam Clancy is making it clear that he and USC will be a force to be reckoned with in the NCAA tournament

March 11, 2002
March 11, 2002

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March 11, 2002

Pro Basketball

Sam I Am Driven by his relentless coach, Sam Clancy is making it clear that he and USC will be a force to be reckoned with in the NCAA tournament

This is a guy whose coach wants him to be meaner? Before his final
regular-season game for USC last Saturday, senior forward Sam
Clancy hatched a plan with his little sister, Samantha. The
moment the public address announcer finished the Senior Day
introductions of Sam, Samantha and their mother, Anetta Harris,
Sis would snatch the wig from the head of their mom, who has been
undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. "I'll give it to you,
and you make a layup with it," Samantha said.

This is an article from the March 11, 2002 issue

"No, throw me an alley-oop," said Sam. Then they both cracked up.
Is that mean enough?

For the record the Clancy siblings didn't dewig Anetta, who
laughed along with her kids and who resolutely refuses to let her
cancer treatment get her down. The three family members stood
with their arms around one another as the loudest and most
sustained applause of the afternoon rained down on Sam before he
led the Trojans in a 79-45 romp over Oregon State.

It was a fitting tribute to a player who could have jumped to the
NBA after last season but instead came back to lead Southern Cal
to a second-place finish in the Pac-10. At a predraft camp in
Chicago last spring, Clancy was dominant, leading 60 other NBA
wannabes in both scoring and rebounding. "In my first game," he
says, "I had, like, 14 and 14 in 16 minutes. I was thinking, Wow,
is this all there is to it?"

In a word: no. Scouts and coaches told Clancy, You're a huge
talent and you had a nice camp, but do yourself a favor: Go back
to college for another year. With all the underclassmen and
Europeans in the draft, you might not be taken until the second
round.

So Clancy returned. Good decision. While carrying the Trojans to
within one game of the Pac-10 regular-season title, he worked his
way up in this year's pro draft. "He's a lock for the first round
and could be a lottery pick," says one NBA scout. As March's
Madness draws nigh, the hottest player in the country may be
Clancy, who had a streak of 11 straight double doubles that ended
in an 83-64 loss to Cal on Feb. 23. During that stretch he
averaged 22.6 points and 11.5 rebounds against some of the
nation's best teams. He's a terror at both ends of the court,
having averaged 19.2 points this season and ranked among the
conference leaders in rebounds, blocked shots and steals. "Sam
Clancy has dominated this league," says Golden Bears coach Ben
Braun.

"I don't see how he can't be Pac-10 player of the year," said
Stanford's Teyo Johnson after Clancy racked up 17 points and 11
rebounds in USC's 77-58 win over the Cardinal in Palo Alto on
Feb. 21.

An outsider, noting that Clancy will end his career as the
third-leading scorer in Southern Cal history, would conclude that
the Trojans couldn't have asked more of their four-year starter.
His coach, Henry Bibby, would disagree. Bibby, a former UCLA and
NBA point guard, whose bald pate, flared ears and perpetual
glower evoke both Nosferatu and Bob Knight, was a furnace of
intensity as a player. "He's always telling us how much of a
tough guy he used to be," says Clancy, smiling.

Bibby has spent four years alternately praising Clancy and
lamenting Clancy's failure to play to his potential. A sampler of
Bibby's gripes: Clancy is "lazy." Clancy is "soft as the
Pillsbury Doughboy." Clancy "still lacks the killer instinct." If
only Clancy would "play with a frown on his face." If only he
would "be a mean son of a bitch."

Clancy smiles at this catalog of his shortcomings. "Because I'm
easygoing, there's a perception that I'm not giving it my all,"
he says. He knows Bibby is simply trying to get the most out of
him, and he appreciates it. "In my earlier years," Clancy says,
"I'd be averaging, like, 17 points and seven boards, and Bibby
would say, 'You could be getting 30 points and 20 rebounds.' And
I'd say, 'C'mon. Be reasonable.' But then I started to ask more
of myself, and I started to see that, hey, I can get double
doubles every game."

While two NBA scouts, unprompted, recently described Clancy as
"aggressive," he never will be the s.o.b. Bibby was. He's content
to leave the scowling to football players. He's the son of Sam, a
former defensive lineman who played 11 years in the NFL and two
in the USFL. The elder Sam, now defensive line coach of the New
Orleans Saints, recalls leaning on the shoulder of six-year-old
Sam Jr., whose support he needed to get from the house to the car
on Mondays after NFL games. Small wonder the son gravitated
toward hoops. "He could see how football was kicking my ass,"
says the father.

Being the son of an NFL player didn't mean young Sam was a child
of privilege, however. When their parents separated in 1992, Sam,
Samantha and their younger brother, Samario, stayed with Anetta.
She and Sam Sr. divorced in 1994, and times got tough. "My
savings went from $50,000 to zero," recalls Anetta. The bank
foreclosed on her house, forcing her to move with the kids into
an apartment "roughly the size of the game room in our old
house," she says. "It was the worst time of our lives."

After a year of working two jobs (in human resources at Sears by
day, in telemarketing in the evening), she joined a construction
union in Cleveland as a general laborer. The work was hard--she
did jobs such as tearing asbestos out of old buildings--but the
money was much better.

Sam Jr. attended St. Edward High, a private, all-boys' school in
Lakewood, Ohio, where Steve Logan, who now stars at Cincinnati,
was a teammate. In the first game of Sam Jr.'s senior year,
against nationally ranked Mount Zion Academy, Sam was
sucker-punched during a fracas in the second half. "That was it,"
recalls his father. "They released the fury. Sam took over that
game." St. Edward won in overtime.

Clancy signed with USC but he wasn't an immediate star, averaging
a little more than five points and five rebounds despite starting
22 games as a freshman. His stats improved every year, though,
and he led the Trojans to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament
last season. But this year, after his flirtation with the NBA,
his game has taken a leap forward. "Coming back was the best
decision I ever made," he says. "Even last season I wouldn't have
envisioned the success that I'm having, or that the team is
having."

His one big deficiency has been academic performance. Not exactly
a Rhodes Scholar candidate to begin with--"I get mostly C's," he
says--his focus was further blurred when his mother's breast
cancer was discovered in October. "My mom means everything to
me," says Clancy, "and when I got that news, school kind of took
a backseat. But she's doing great now."

"I'm kicking chemo in the butt," Anetta reports, and that news
helps Clancy find perspective. His name was recently struck from
the list of candidates for a prestigious player-of-the-year
award, the result of his failure to maintain a 2.0 average. News
of his grades preceded him to Berkeley. During warmups before the
game at Cal on Feb. 23, a few hundred Golden Bears fans took to
chanting Clancy's GPA: "One-point-nine!"

Dribbling over to within a few feet of his tormentors, Clancy
looked one in the eye and issued a brief rejoinder: "Yeah,
one-point-nine million."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Pac Man Gobbling up points and boards against Oregon State, Clancy showed why he's an odds-on favorite to be a lottery pick.