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Rodd Baxley | The Fayetteville Observer | March 2, 2019

Campbell's Chris Clemons readies for final act

Gonzaga tops Andy Katz's Power 36 rankings

Chris Clemons doesn't seek the spotlight, but he certainly thrives in it.

The 5-foot-9 guard just never envisioned it being as bright as it has been over the course of his four-year career at Campbell University.

"That's something I wouldn't have ever thought about happening to me," said Clemons, who trails only five players on the NCAA Division I all-time scoring list.

"It's definitely a unique experience."

Clemons, who loves to put on a show for fans, only has a handful of games left in a Campbell jersey, but he's hoping his final act will leave a lasting impression in Buies Creek.

MAKING HISTORY: Tracking Chris Clemons' way to 3,000 points

"I'm just going to continue to play the way I've been playing; don't try to do nothing special," he said.

"Hopefully, something special does happen, but I'm not going to try to force it."

The list of accolades seems endless -- and continues to lengthen -- for the Raleigh native, who will carry 3,106 career points into Saturday's regular-season finale against Radford (20-9, 12-3 Big South) at Gore Arena.

With a scoring average of 30.1 points per game, Clemons is on track to become the first player in more than 20 years to average 30 or more in a season.

He's done more than 300 interviews this year and has become a regular on ESPN's SportsCenter highlights with buzzer-beating jumpers and high-flying dunks, but he continues to keep his focus on the next goal.

"It's kind of part of the deal, right, when you get somebody that's so good?" said sixth-year coach Kevin McGeehan, who praised Clemons' ability to keep the hoopla in check.

"I think he's handled it really well. I don't think it's easy to be constantly being reminded of who's next on the list and who you're about to pass. ... I'm sure there's been moments where he's been a little bit cloudy because of so much stuff coming at him, but I'd say considering everything, he's done an unbelievable job managing all of it at an incredible level."

An early impression

While Clemons couldn't imagine the type of career he would have with the Camels, McGeehan never had any doubts about what Clemons could bring to the program.

McGeehan and his staff remained vigilant in their pursuit of Clemons during his recruitment as a standout at Millbrook High School. That constant presence and interest paid off with a commitment from Clemons ahead of his senior year.

DUNKING: Chris Clemons is one of five people we would want to see in a dunk contest 

"We talked about trying to make the NCAA tournament," McGeehan said. "We talked about the fact that he could be the all-time leading scorer here, which he has clearly done. I thought he could be an all-time great."

That vision was reinforced during an 11-day foreign tour that included stops in Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands ahead of Clemons' freshman season in 2015.

The Camels were at a field day event that included kayaking, archery and other competitive activities. That's when McGeehan got a glimpse of Clemons' competitive spirit off the court.

"He had known the guys on the team for like three weeks prior (to the trip) and he was trying to win so bad," McGeehan recalled.

"It was encouraging to see that he was into it. It was all good stuff; he was just competitive."

Andrew Eudy, who was a part of the same recruiting class, remembers those first moments when Clemons touched the court for the Camels.

"He came in and I saw Chris -- a buff, little guy," said Eudy, who is averaging 11.4 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game in his senior campaign.

"All of a sudden he comes out and starts jumping over everybody and stuff like that. I've never really seen a player like that before. It's pretty incredible coming in and seeing the growth that he's made, not only physically but maturity-wise."

'One of the guys'

There's no denying Clemons' role as Campbell's alpha on the hardwood, but that's not how he carries himself when he's around his teammates.

"He genuinely wants to be one of the guys," McGeehan said.

Eudy echoed those comments, pointing to Clemons' involvement with the team this past summer while recovering from an injury.

"He's just an extraordinary player, honestly, but that's on the court," Eudy said. "Off the court, he's a fun, weird guy who everyone gets along with. We've all been able to grow off of that and feed from him, so it's incredible."

Through it all, Clemons has remained focused on doing what he can to shift the spotlight to the success of his squad.

Clemons and McGeehan preached the potential of this year's group in October at the Big South Conference's annual media day. They believed the Camels, who were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll, had a legitimate shot of capturing their first Big South title since 1992 -- the same year the program earned its lone bid to play in the NCAA tournament.

With a win against Radford this afternoon, Campbell (18-11, 11-4) can claim its first regular-season crown since 2010 when it was a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference.

"It's no surprise to me," Clemons said. "I knew what our team could be. I knew how successful we could be in this league. We have a unique opportunity in front of us and we're going to be ready to play."

The team focus is an aspect that can get lost in the noise surrounding the individual success of Clemons, but McGeehan knows his star player is determined to help raise some banners inside Gore Arena.

"I just think us playing well, him playing well, and having a chance to play for a championship is what it's all about," he said. "Whenever you take over a team or a program, it's all about trying to figure out how to get to a point where you have these opportunities."

And even with the calendar flipping to March with the stakes as high as ever, Clemons' mindset is unchanged.

"I've been through it for four years," he said. ". ... Every game means something and every game has meant something to me. It's not going to be any different."

'Unique' legacy

There's no question Clemons wants to be remembered as one of the best college basketball players of all time.

"Hopefully, people just see me as the greatest player to ever come through here," he said.

"And me, along with Andrew, (as) one of the greatest duos to come through here. Just to be able to start something bigger, something bigger than when we started. Hopefully it's to come from when we leave. If that happens, I'll be happy with that."

But he paused when asked to describe his journey in Buies Creek.

"I would just say it's unique," he said, "because, you know, what I've been able to accomplish and being able to give to the fans what I've been able to give to them.

"Being able to interact with a lot of kids and parents, I think it's definitely something a lot of people aren't able to see for themselves and be a part of. I think it's definitely unique -- the legacy I'm able to leave."

Eudy and McGeehan offered their thoughts on Clemons' legacy with certainty.

"Obviously, everyone has a part in getting to where we are today, but Chris really put us on the map," Eudy said. "His scoring and stuff like that, and his ability to get to the rim and shoot whenever he wants, and put up the numbers that he does, it's kind of unbelievable."

McGeehan added: "You talk about a legacy. Shoot, he's going to end up having the most unbelievable career across the board of probably anybody, kind of ever. .... He's got every step."

But for now, McGeehan isn't going to close the curtain with a lasting memory of Clemons' time with the Camels.

"Well, that picture has yet to be painted, right?" he said with a smile. "Let's see. I don't want it to end just yet."

Staff writer Rodd Baxley can be reached at rbaxley@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3519. ___

This article is written by Rodd Baxley from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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