Clarke expands role for surging Ramblers
Westchester, 2/15/13--James Clarke, (5), of Loyola putting up a shot under the net against St. Joseph. | Vincent D. Johnson~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 22, 2013 7:00AM
WESTCHESTER — A solid contributor as a sophomore, James Clarke is now a vital leader as a junior on a Loyola squad that came into the week riding a 13-game winning streak.
His leadership might not have been more evident than last Friday, when he suited up against CCL North foe St. Joseph despite being hobbled by a back injury.
The junior guard scored 10 points, including a key late basket, as the Ramblers won 43-42 and clinched the CCL North boys basketball title.
“James has been unbelievable for us this year, a leader by example,” said Loyola junior Chris Sullivan. “He could not be better for us and our team. He is one of the glue-people for our team, he just keeps everybody together.”
Clarke’s transformation started when coach Tom Livatino named him one of five captains on this year’s squad, along with Jack Byrne, Austin Morton, Richie Wehman and Kevin Kucera.
“Coach named me a captain at the start of the year and told me, ‘James, we need your voice,’ ” said Clarke, who lives in Winnetka. “I took that and started talking a lot more. At the start of the season I was a little shy.
“Sophomore year, it was just a year to get experience and stuff. This year, I am more of a leader and I have been leading by example. I am really liking the role so far.”
His play on the court has been instrumental for the Ramblers (20-5 overall, 9-2 conference), as well, who have not lost since December and avoided a tie at the top of the conference standings by defeating St. Joseph (15-11, 7-4).
“He has been playing really well lately, scoring in bunches probably the last five games,” Livatino said. “He is our second-leading scorer, and he is a huge part of why we have been successful. When James is playing at a high level, and really effective for us, he has been getting to the basket and he is finishing.
“When he does that, he is a really tough cover, because he shoots the ball really well.”
Clarke is averaging 13.2 points per game, and his coach praised his behavior off the court, too.
“He is a great kid, he is a wonderful kid,” Livatino said. “He is a very, very good student and is really active in the school community. He is a great representative of Loyola and is a great teammate.”
After playing hurt against St. Joseph, Clarke hopes to be close to full strength as the Ramblers aim for a run in the IHSA playoffs.
“We are on a winning streak right now, and it is a fun ride,” Clarke said. “We are trying to win our regional (hosted by Loyola) right now, that is all we are focused on.”