INDIANAPOLIS – Seeing a player down on the court for a significant amount of time is enough to change the perspective of a basketball participant in the moment.
Kellen Dunham felt that way as he kept his attention on his teammate laying down underneath the far basket at the University of Dayton Arena Saturday afternoon.
Surrounded by athletic trainers, coaches, and a few paramedics, Rotnei Clarke remained still as it was determined the severity of his head-on collision with the padding behind the basket.
Then came the next piece of equipment needed for treatment.
“It was awful, obviously,” said Dunham. “Then when I saw the stretcher, he was very emotional.”
It sat to the right of Clarke who was slowly placed onto the backboard and then eventually lifted up onto the stretcher. With applause coming from the crowd Clarke raised his thumb up in the air to signal that his health was much better than his escort out of the arena made it look.
“We saw one of our scarier moments in college basketball in a long time on Saturday,” said head coach Brad Stevens bluntly on Tuesday-and don’t think Clarke doesn’t realize that.
Speaking for the first time since the injury on Tuesday, the senior guard expressed his feeling of good fortune that the injury was limited to a neck sprain. While it will keep him out at least the next two Butler games, he realizes the consequences could have been more dire.
“I feel very blessed that day that I was able to walk out of that hospital,” said Clarke, who did return with the team to Indianapolis after their six-point win over Dayton. “Puts a lot of things in perspective when that happens.”
Especially for a player like Clarke who is often classified as a “Gym Rat” because of his time spent working on his game at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The work has paid off in his senior season at Butler as he’s led the Bulldogs in scoring with 16.3 points per game and helped the team to a 14-2 record and a 13th ranking in the latest AP basketball poll.
Once he hit head first into the padding on Saturday afternoon, however, a bit of perspective was added to his thoughts on the game.
“Its shows you that, you know, your health and the people around you are more important than the actual game,” said Clarke. “That puts a lot of stuff in perspective.”
Keeping that could be difficult for the motivated Clarke as he begins to recover from the neck sprain. At the moment the guard is out for Butler’s home games with Richmond on Wednesday and Saturday’s contest with Gonzaga. It’s not a completely foreign concept to sit out and watch the team since Clarke had to do that all last season after transferring from Arkansas.
“Just try to stay positive,” said Clarke of how he will deal with his time out of the lineup. “My job right now is to be a good teammate, lift up my teammates and encourage them whether it be in practice or sitting when I’m sitting on the bench during games.”
Brad Stevens says the team must be the same for Clarke as he deals with the injury no matter how long it lasts. The coach is adamant that he will not return to the Bulldogs’ line-up until he is fully cleared by the team’s medical staff.
“That’s the most we can do is be a good teammate and friend to him at this time and we’ll get him healthy” said Stevens of Clarke.
Over the next few days, however, being a good teammate could mean some tough love.
“That’s a big key, is trying to keep him off the court,” said senior Chase Stigall of the team making sure that Clarke doesn’t come back too early. “We’ve had to be real strict with him, we’re like ‘Listen, you know, Rotnei this is a big factor in not just basketball but maybe your life’.”
Even with a new look on basketball, Clarke admits staying off the court till he’s ready will be a challenge.
“I’m not a patient guy,” said Clarke. “I’m having to learn to be patient right now and listen to whatever the doctors tell me and listen to what our trainers say and coaches. I’m trusting that and whatever they say is what its going to be.”