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Clarke's death has shaken basketball

April 25, 2021 at 3:06 a.m.

LOS ANGELES -- Before his name became the subject of tragic headlines that quickly spread from coast to coast, Terrence Clarke was at a gym doing what he loved most.

Lorenzo Davis saw him Thursday morning and beamed with pride at having once gotten to coach Clarke at a Pangos All-American basketball camp. He would always remember how the blue-chip prospect attentively listened to the pointers of his random coach, how Clarke graciously posed for a picture with Davis' 8-year-old son, Tytus. Now Clarke was back in Los Angeles, pursuing his dream of becoming an NBA Draft pick.

"I hadn't seen him since he went to Kentucky," said Davis, an assistant coach at Heritage Christian School in North Hills, Calif. "He looked like he was ready. Body right, in shape."

Davis and Clarke exchanged a quick greeting before moving on with their days. A few hours later, Clarke left the 1st Place Sports Complex and drove south on Winnetka Avenue, where he sped into a truck that was turning left on Nordhoff Street, police said. Clarke's vehicle caromed into a pole before coming to a stop.

The 19-year-old native of Dorchester, Mass., a working-class neighborhood in South Boston, did not survive the crash, sending the basketball world into mourning.

Davis found out -- like most of Clarke's expansive network of confidants, mentors and friends -- through a breaking news notification on his phone.

"That kid, man, he was born for success," Davis said Friday. "His smile, when I say it moved the room ... the room. If you had a bad day, that dude would smile, and you're good."

Clarke had plenty to be happy about these days. Though he had struggled to live up to his 5-star billing during his one season at Kentucky, which missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013, that did not deter Clarke from declaring for the draft. Clarke had recently signed with L.A.-based Klutch Sports, joining agent Rich Paul's exclusive clientele that includes LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Ben Simmons.

The reverberations created by the news of Clarke's death started in L.A. but registered maximum impact in Boston.

"Not sure how much I want to talk about the game, when you consider he's a Boston kid ... those kids are important to us here," Boston Celtics Coach Brad Stevens told reporters after Thursday's game. "My son looks up to him. Hard to talk about a basketball game."

Celtics stars Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker had taken Clarke, a shining star in the Northeast basketball scene, under their wings. Brown posted a picture of him and Clarke on his Instagram account, which read, "Words can't even explain ... what I hate the most [is] the world didn't even get to see how much potential you really had ..."

Brown then asked for the NBA to find a way to still have Clarke's name called on draft night in July.

Clarke had come so far from his adolescent days when he would show up to the Vine Street Community Center in Roxbury to play.

"Couldn't play when he first got here," David Hinton, the administrative coordinator at the community center, said Friday morning "But he was a good kid, and he started developing a pretty good skill set and a really good work ethic, and before you know it, right before our eyes, he turned into a superstar.

"By talking to him, you never would have known he was a basketball star. You would have to see him play, because he didn't talk like that. He was just a regular, everyday kid."

Kentucky Coach John Calipari flew to L.A. on Friday to be with Clarke's family, including his mother, Osmine, whom Hinton said was at the scene of the crash. Brandon Boston, his Kentucky teammate this year and a former star at Sierra Canyon, was also there, according to reports.

"He was as caring of a person as I have ever coached," Calipari said. "His enthusiasm and energy -- not just for basketball, for life -- are what we all hope to have in our journey. Terrence had figured that part out -- that if you wake up every day with a smile on your face and a joy in everything you do, this life is beautiful."

To Davis, the basketball world can be very small in moments of tragedy. He was but one of hundreds who shared a moment with Clarke, however fleeting, that felt special.

"You might hoop with a person but it feels like you've known them forever because of what basketball brings," Davis said. "This hurts right here."

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