ARLINGTON, Texas -- Growing up in Trinidad & Tobago, Mairega Clarke enjoyed playing just about every sport on the planet. As a youngster, he played cricket, soccer and was a standout in track and field - in particular his athleticism helped him become very good at the long jump.
In 2008, when he was just 14 years old, Clarke and his family moved to Queens, New York. There, he was introduced to the sport of basketball and quickly realized he found his calling.
"I started to play basketball when I moved to the U.S.," said Clarke. "There was definitely a learning curve. I was really raw. Although I had played a little, I didn't know anything about the game. When I was a kid in Trinidad, I did it all. When you are from the islands, you just try everything and see what you like the most."
While attending Holy Cross High School in nearby Flushing, N.Y., he missed most of his junior year after a scary bout with high blood pressure. But, following treatment and a change in his diet, Clarke returned to the court and caught the eyes of college scouts as a senior when he helped lead his team to the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens "AA" title. He scored 19 points to go with 16 rebounds in a intersectional semifinal win over Mount St. Michael and earned all-Queens honors by the New York Post.
After graduation, he admittedly needed more academic and athletic preparation to be fully ready to attend college. So, Clarke decided to spend a year at Putnam Science Academy - a prep school in Connecticut. He then spent two seasons at Carl Albert State College in Southeastern Oklahoma.
While at junior college, he developed his game and went on to average 12.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while earning his associate's degree. Along the way, he once again caught the eye of college recruiters and decided to accept Mavericks head coach Scott Cross' offer to attend UTA.
After appearing in 18 games as a junior, it was apparent that the team's depth at the guard position could have an effect on his playing time and development as a senior. So, again, Clarke made a difficult decision that would benefit him both athletically and academically. After talking with Cross and the coaching staff, he decided to sit out the 2016-17 season.
"Sitting out last year was tough," said Clarke. "But, it was the best decision for me. We had a lot of guards and I knew it was going to be difficult to play as much as I would have liked. My dream is to play professionally and it was helpful to have that time to improve my game, grow as a person and work toward my goals.
He spent the year training with the team, watching games from the bench and spending extra time in the gym to improve his outside shooting and fitness.
"I learned a lot about the game last year simply by watching with a specific purpose," said Clarke. "I watched how the coaches worked with specific players, how the plays work and develop and how guys communicate on the court."
Cross agrees that the redshirt season helped Clarke develop on and off the court and, likely, increased his opportunity for playing time this year.
"Mairega was in the gym quite a bit on his own last year working on his shooting and conditioning," said Cross. "He was able to spend time learning the system, the things we do on both ends of the floor. So, that helped him get ahead of the curve. We lost three guys who played a similar position, so now he has a great opportunity to earn some significant minutes.
"He is a guy that has an opportunity to start. He certainly is capable and he has shown a strong work ethic in practice in boot camp and during this first week of preseason practice. He has definitely gotten tougher over the past year. I'm excited to see what the future holds for him."
UTA has developed a reputation as an up-tempo, gritty, hard working team that plays an entertaining style of basketball. According to Cross, the Mavericks' system is perfectly-suited for Clarke's style and athletic ability.
"Mairega is long, athletic and his first step is as quick as anyone on our team," said Cross. "He is really good at finishing in transition. Point guards love playing with him because they have the confidence that when they dish him a pass on the break, he will finish. With his length and athleticism, he has the capability of being a lock-down defender."
UTA's last two seasons has produced a combined 52 wins - the 2nd most among Division I programs in the state of Texas - and a regular season Sun Belt Conference title. But, unfortunate injuries to key players contributed toward the team falling just short of the ultimate goal, the NCAA Tournament.
Clarke and his teammates are focused on maintaining the program's momentum and earning a trip to the Big Dance.
"Our team goal is to win games, win championships and play in the NCAA Tournament," said Clarke. "I know we are capable of big things. We have talented players and depth. We have length. We have shooters. We play solid defense and always expect to be toughest team on the court. It is just going to be a matter of making sure we bring it all together in order for us to achieve our goal."
HOW TO BUY TICKETS
Full season and single game tickets to attend UTA men and women's basketball events are on sale through the UTA Box Office in person or by calling (817) 272-8585 and online through UTATickets.com. Season tickets are available for as low as $99 for all 30 men and women's games, which comes out to $3.30 per game. Single game tickets are priced at $8, $12 and $25 per game, depending on seat location. UTA students and faculty staff tickets are available for just $5 for a single game or at a reduced rate for season tickets. Discount Maverick Club (season) and general public (single game) parking is also available. Visit UTATickets.com for detailed information.
ENJOY AN EVENING WITH THE MAVERICKS
Basketball and Barbeque will the theme of the night at the UTA basketball program's annual tipoff dinner hosted by the Maverick Club on Oct. 23 from 6-8 p.m. in College Park Center. Visit with players, coaches, and staff from the men's and women's basketball teams, participate in a Q & A session with the players and coaches, pick-up or purchase season tickets and get autographs from your favorite Mavericks. Spring Creek Barbeque (a loyal Maverick Club member) will provide dinner. General public tickets are $20 and may be purchased by clicking here. Maverick Club members should contact Danielle Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 817-272-0694 to claim complementary tickets and to RSVP.
FOLLOW THE MAVS SOCIALLY
For up-to-date news, photos, videos and updates you can follow UTA sports program online at UTAMavs.com or via any of several social media accounts on twitter @UTAMavs, Instagram @UTAMavs, Snapchat @UTAMavs and Facebook at UTArlingtonAthletics. Follow the UTA basketball programs on Twitter at @UTA_MBB and @LadyMavHoops.
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