Wizard of Treys
"Shooting is 70 percent confidence," says Harvard men's basketball captain Dan Clemente '01, and he should know. In November, Clemente became the twentieth player in Harvard history to score more than 1,000 career points, and he could finish the season as high as third on the all-time scoring list, plus break the Crimson record of 167 three-pointers held by Mike Gilmore '96. "Dan has perfect mechanics and tremendous hand-eye coordination, which give him the ability to shoot with great precision," says head coach Frank Sullivan.
It was not always thus. The 6-foot, 8-inch Clemente has always been tall but he couldn't shoot until junior high school, when he started spending endless hours around the backyard hoop. "I just got the bug," he explains, smiling. Outdoor lights were essential, since Clemente's sessions lasted well into the night. In winter he shoveled off the snow and shot with gloves on. Today, Clemente can hit from anywhere on the court, and he continues to put in lots of practice time. "I developed confidence from my hours in the gym--repetition," he says.
He has done things that surprised even him. Last year, after the third game, he noticed blurry vision in his right eye. Two games later, Clemente, who typically shoots about 46 percent from the floor, went 3-for-18 (17 percent) against Boston University. His retina had become detached. After making the diagnosis, the ophthalmologist told him, "You need to have surgery tonight, and you'll miss the rest of the season." The surgery actually took place the next morning, with doctors anticipating recovery in four months. But the fast-healing athlete amazed everyone by returning to the lineup in early February, missing only 11 games. Before his injury, Clemente's 21.6 points-per-game average was sixth in the nation; he finished the year at 18.6, which would have led the Ivy League had he played enough to qualify. Even with the shortened season, league coaches selected Clemente to the all-Ivy First Team.
Two years before, they had voted him Ivy Rookie of the Year. Clemente arrived at Harvard having grown up in a Roman- Catholic family in Albany, New York. His father, Brian, captained the Boston College football team in 1974. Clemente attended Christian Brothers Academy in Albany, where his 45 points in one game set a school record, but he developed his hoop skills mostly on club teams and during a postgraduate prep year at St. Thomas More High School in Oakdale, Connecticut. "It's a small, all-boys private school in the middle of nowhere," Clemente says. "You couldn't leave on weekends. You eat, sleep, and drink basketball. They play in the New England Prep School League, which is so strong that some would argue that it's better than the Ivy League."
A visit to Cambridge convinced Clemente that Harvard's basketball program was serious, and in his freshman year, his 13.8 points per game placed him ninth among all Ivy scorers. As a sophomore, he started all 26 games despite a nagging ankle injury, and along the way tossed in 32 points against Northeastern, the most any Harvard player had recorded in six years. Reconstructive surgery after the season tightened ligaments and cleaned out bone spurs.
Injuries have delayed, but never stopped, Clemente's growth as a player. "We were thinking he'd be a small forward, but we found he was also effective in the power forward spot--he could get away from bigger people," says Sullivan. "Dan has a small forward's game--he can pass, dribble, and shoot--but he can also hurt you with his back to the basket, pivoting out of the low post."
This year, with eyes and ankles healthy, the Adams House senior's versatility may well spur his young teammates (the squad has only one other senior) on to victory--and some surprises. Last winter, Clemente missed a shot at the buzzer in Harvard's 62-61 loss to Penn, a near-upset of the eventual undefeated Ivy champions. That Harvard team was 12-15 overall, 7-7 in the Ivies. This team may be even better prepared; as Clemente notes, "We have guys who worked extremely hard this summer." They also have leadership; Sullivan speaks about Clemente's "resiliency, and determination to succeed." Clemente himself puts it more simply: "I'm stubborn."
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