By Chris Gionta
Skyy Clark, who will be playing for Coach John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats next season, faced a major roadblock this past year.
In July 2021, Clark suffered a partially torn ACL that would require surgery.
“I was practicing for (the Nike EYBL) Peach Jam one weekend, and there were about 30 seconds left to go in the practice,” Clark said. “And we were running up the court playing 5-on-5, and I tripped. I landed weird and my knee hyperextended, and that’s the point where it tore.”
For some, this would be an injury that would make them a different player. With Clark, however, only six months had to pass before he was in basketball competition for the defending GEICO national champion Montverde Academy.
Despite how he made it appear, the process of returning so quickly did not come without difficulty.
“(The biggest challenge was) the day-by-day rehab,” said Clark. “It’s a long process — six months — when you look back at it, it goes by quick. But, going through the process — it’s a long one; and just gaining confidence in your knee, in your game and everything.”
There was certainly no guarantee that Clark was going to play his senior season at Montverde after this injury. He committed to University of Kentucky prior to the high school season starting, so his recruiting would not have been affected by him being unable to play the season. However, different factors involving Montverde convinced him that not only was he able to play, but that he wanted to play.
“In the beginning, I didn’t feel like I could play,” said Clark.
“But then I started dunking again about a week before the season started, and then me and my trainer, Jason, were like ‘yeah, I could play this season.’”
His physical capabilities were not the only factors that inspired him to play this season after such an impactful injury.
“(What drove me back was) really these guys, my teammates,” said Clark.
“They were supportive through the whole thing. They just made me want to get out there with them. And they told me not to rush it and to get out there when I’m ready.”
On Jan. 6, he made his season debut, and just played his fifth game of the season on Jan. 15 against DeMatha Catholic High School, where Montverde won 86-65 in their first game at the 2022 Spalding Hoophall Classic presented by Eastbay.
Clark is not a hard player to spot with his newly-colored blonde hair. But what’s on top of his head is far from the most outstanding thing about him. His incredible athleticism, shooting stroke, along with his extreme effort on the court sets him apart.
The athleticism was featured greatly on one particular possession in the first quarter of his game against DeMatha. Driving down the left side of the lane with Montverde up 13-4 with slightly more than four minutes left, Clark went for the layup, saw one of DeMatha’s biggest defenders put their hands in the way, and put the ball in his right hand in mid-air and hooked the layup around the rim on the right side to make it an 11-point ballgame – garnering a significant reaction from the packed Blake Arena crowd.
His crisp shot boosted Montverde’s already-dangerous offense in the first half, where he effortlessly sank three baskets from beyond the arc.
Throughout the first half, the combo guard also showcased his willingness to take one for the team. He attempted to take three charges, and in the second half, he put in so much effort to grab a rebound that he ended up falling straight onto his back. As one would expect at this point, Clark shook it off and went on to the next play.
Another adjustment Clark has been making away from the injury is working with a new team. He transferred to Montverde Academy a couple months before his injury, and now has been playing games with the team for less than two weeks.
“Before I played my first game against Sunrise (Christian School), I had only practiced with the team for less than a week,” Clark said. “So, that first game against Sunrise, there were a lot of factors that went into that loss.”
Progress has been made from the first game to now, however.
“But, I feel like we’ve been clicking lately.” said Clark.
His teammates playing at Hoophall are not limited to the Montverde roster. Chris Livingston, a small forward for Oak Hill Academy, is also committed to University of Kentucky. They have made sure to build some chemistry for their 2022-23 season.
“We’re in the same hotel,” said Clark. “I saw him today, so whenever I pass by, we have a little conversation.”
Clark’s journey to stardom has been well-documented with a relatively wide audience for it. He has 256,000 followers on Instagram and over 13,000 followers on Twitter, where he would post videos of himself rehabbing and training to show his progress.
Along with his own social media, he has had an active blog on Sports Illustrated’s website since May 2020, where he has talked about the recruiting process, his progress on the court, his progress in the classroom and eventually his injury and recovery process.
“(Staying connected with fans on social media) is super important,” said Clark. “Because those are the ones that cheer for you and give you confidence, and are there for supporting you through whatever you go through; not just on the court but off the court as well. So staying connected with them — it’s a really important thing.”
The combo guard will be going from one basketball powerhouse to another for his next season, and hopes to continue that into the NBA. Recovering from a setback like his has been a proving point to many that he has the physical and mental toughness to get him very far.
Photo Courtesy Joe Arruda/The Student