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Trojan Horse

At 6 Feet 7, 240 Pounds, Clancy Is the Big Man on the Block

January 23, 2002|PAUL GUTIERREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If ever anyone seemed destined for a career in football, it was Sam Clancy.

He chose basketball.

At 6 feet 7, 240 pounds, with the wing span of a pterodactyl and sporting a shaved head and perpetual scowl, Clancy would seem to be the prototypical intimidator down low.

His coach once said he was as soft as the Pillsbury Doughboy.

He led an NBA pre-draft camp in scoring and rebounding.

Clancy was told he needed to get meaner and probably wouldn't be drafted until late in the first round at the earliest.

And he has taken heat for his brand of silent leadership.

Yet no one associated with USC's basketball program doubts Clancy's will to win or his mere presence as a major factor in the Trojans' return to national prominence.

"I'd say I'm a simple guy," Clancy said. "I mean, it doesn't take much to please me. I basically do everything that I do ... for my mother. She's the reason I'm here. She pushes me every day to go out and strive to be the best that I can be."

Oh, yeah, did we mention that Clancy, the biggest and baddest enigma of the enigmatic and No. 23-ranked Trojans, is also a soft-and-cuddly mama's boy?

Things aren't always as they seem with Clancy, the Trojan power forward who flirted with turning pro last summer before pulling his name from the NBA draft hat to come back to USC for his senior season. But there is no doubt that the Trojans wouldn't be where they are today without their best and most feared player.

Clancy, the eldest of three children by Sam Clancy Sr. and Anetta Harris, was reared in Cleveland while his dad toiled in the NFL's trenches as a defensive end for 11 years with the Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts.

His sister, Samantha, is a freshman at the University of Richmond and his brother, Samario, is a high school junior with more hoops acumen than his older brother.

"He's got more skill now than I did at the same age and he's got size-15 feet, so hopefully he grows into those," Clancy said. "My sister, I'm really proud of her. She's like the brains of the family. She got [an academic] scholarship to go to Richmond, which is like a $26,000 school. She got a full ride to go there and she gets straight A's and I ask her, 'How do you get straight A's? I've been in school forever and only gotten a handful of A's. How do you get straight A's?'"

Despite his athletic pedigree, Clancy played only one year of organized football--as a high school freshman.

The elder Clancy, who also played college basketball at Pittsburgh, steered his son away from the football and toward basketball.

"When I was playing, he was 6 years old and he had to help me to the car after every game because of my injuries," said Clancy Sr., now a New Orleans Saint defensive line coach. "He played that one year of football and didn't want to play any more so I just supported his decision."

Added the younger Clancy: "And I'm not too big a fan of playing football in that 20-degree weather of Cleveland in the wintertime. It's no fun to me."

The Cleveland cold led him to California.

Clancy, a high school All-American at St. Edward High in Fairview, Ohio, had never been to California when he took his recruiting visit to USC. He fell in love immediately with the climate and campus.

Having been recruited heavily by traditional powers Cincinnati and Michigan State, Clancy signed with moribund USC in what was a huge recruiting coup for Trojan Coach Henry Bibby.

"I was ready for a change of scenery in my life," Clancy said. "I came out here on my visit and it was like a whole other world to me. And I really liked Coach Bibby and an assistant at the time, Coach [Dave] Miller. I liked the way they were selling the program."

So sold that some alleged Clancy was paid $25,000 to become a Trojan. A Pacific 10 Conference investigation found no evidence of impropriety.

An up-and-down freshman season was followed by a breakout sophomore year that was derailed by a broken right foot.

But he was free of injury enough last year to lead USC to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament while leading the Trojans in scoring (17.3), rebounding (7.5), field-goal percentage (.501) and blocked shots (81).

Clancy put his name in the early-entrant NBA draft list and, because he did not hire an agent, kept his college eligibility alive. He said he would definitely leave school, though, if he were guaranteed to go in the first 17 picks.

Despite leading the Chicago camp in scoring and rebounding, he could get no such guarantee and returned to USC, partly on the advice of his dad.

"I just didn't think, as a father and as a fan, that he was ready," Sam Sr. said. "I thought he needed his senior year and to get closer to graduating. Plus he had his own goals still that he hadn't met yet."

The younger Clancy, a sociology major, has no regrets.

"It was probably the best thing I could have done," Clancy said. "Now a lot of NBA personnel guys know who Sam Clancy is and what he can do. It was good for me to get my name out there."

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