Claremore Daily Progress

January 16, 2013

Ex-Verdigris standout Rotnei Clarke recovering from neck sprain

ASSOCIATED PRESS
ASSOCIATED PRESS

INDIANAPOLIS — When the soreness in Rotnei Clarke's shoulders dissipates, Butler's senior guard plans to carry the Bulldogs as far as he can.

For now, all he can do is watch, wait and heal.

The top scorer for the 14th-ranked Bulldogs said Tuesday he is feeling better after a scary crash into a padded basket support, but Clarke still hasn't been cleared to resume contact and Butler has not said how much more time he'll miss beyond this week's two games.

"I'm going to start getting on the bike a little bit and then when the pain in my shoulders starts to leave a little bit with the nerves, I'll be able to shoot and be able to do non-contact stuff hopefully,'' he said, answering questions for the first time since sustaining a sprained neck at Dayton. "Right now I'm just resting for a couple of days.''

Clarke was injured during last Saturday's victory when he was fouled on a layup, and the contact sent him head-first into a nearby basket support.

He stayed down for eight minutes before being taken away on an ambulance and was transported to a local hospital. He was released later Saturday night and returned to Indianapolis with his team despite complaining of a sore neck and a bad headache.

On Sunday, trainers removed the protective brace from Clarke's neck and allowed him to go through a light workout. On Monday night, though, the Bulldogs (14-2, 2-0 Atlantic 10) issued a statement saying Clarke would be held out of Wednesday night's home game against Richmond and Saturday's home showdown against No. 8 Gonzaga.

Beyond that, the timetable is unclear.

"I'm doing the best that I can,'' Clarke said. "I'm going to listen to our trainers and our coaches and doctors. I just have to know that they have my best interest at hand and they want what's best with me.''

Clarke was third in the Atlantic 10 in scoring heading into last weekend at 16.3 points per game.

Losing Clarke, a strong 3-point shooter who can drive to the basket, will force the Bulldogs to make changes.

Coach Brad Stevens acknowledged he will spread out the 35 to 40 minutes per game that Clarke typically plays among the rest of his players, and he'll need other players to help make up for the loss of his top scorer. He also expects defenses to make some adjustments.

"They might make some tweaks and some changes, which I do expect from some teams, but I don't know that it's necessarily predictable,'' Stevens said. "I would assume that we will see some small tweaks, but nothing major, certainly nothing out of the norm of what teams are usually doing.''

But Stevens believes the scary scene at Dayton should raise concerns about potential injuries at other schools and could instigate a debate about where basket supports belong on the court during college games.

"It was obviously a hard foul. I've looked at it. I've seen harder fouls. But it was a hard foul,'' Stevens said. "I think the bigger question is at what point are we going to start talking about backstops being so close to the floor. That's the bigger question. We saw one of our scarier moments in college basketball in a long time on Saturday.''

The injury couldn't have come at a worse time for the Bulldogs, who face the Spiders (11-6) before playing one of the biggest non-power conference games of the season.

If the Bulldogs beat Gonzaga, it would mark the first time in school history that they have upset three Top 10 teams in one season. They beat North Carolina in Hawaii and handed No. 2 Indiana its only loss of the season last month.

Clarke wanted to be around for Saturday's game, but he will now have to settle for playing the role of supportive teammate and getting himself ready to play as soon as he's cleared.

"I feel very blessed to be walking right now. I feel blessed that I was able to walk out of the hospital,'' Clarke said. "It puts a lot of things in perspective when something like that happens.''