Growing up is hard. Think back to your days in middle school, junior high and high school. Remember how difficult you thought it was to talk to girls or boys, deal with all the drama, and fit in with everyone else?
Now imagine trying to grow up without a dad or without a house.
Enter Marvin Clark.
On the surface lies a freak-of-nature athlete with great size, superior shooting ability and heaps of raw talent. A high-profile prospect pursued by solid basketball programs such as Indiana, Kansas State and Wichita State, Clark recently committed to Michigan State as a small forward in the class of 2014.
But beneath the surface lies much more. Memories of tough times. Limitless potential. Unshakeable faith. And despite all of the adversity he has faced, a sense of optimism and hope is planted firmly within Clark’s heart that one day he will provide for his family and become an inspiration to others.
Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. had an opportunity to speak with this outstanding young man, as well as his athletic director at Sunrise Christian Academy, Kyle Lindsted, on Spartan Nation Radio.
Clark’s journey to the present day began with an event that no young child should ever have to attend: funeral processions for his father.
But that’s where Clark found himself as a three-year-old boy, looking at the lifeless body of his father inside of a casket. As Clark mentions during a documentary made on his life, entitled, “I Am Marvin,” (you can watch it here on YouTube) he did not fully realize the gravity of the situation until his family cried while he tried to climb into the casket and wake up his dad.
Clark’s mother struggled to provide for her three sons, and couldn’t afford the family’s house. Clark spent much of his remainder of his childhood homeless with his mom, moving from shelter to shelter in Kansas City, a city with a crime rate at three times the national average. During these tough times, he switched schools as many as nine times.
Somehow, someway, Clark emerged with his heart and hope intact. He and his mother found a place to live, and Clark went to high school at Imagine Renaissance Academy.
While attending the charter school, Clark’s basketball talent began to emerge in his first season of organized basketball. Soon, he was offered the opportunity to attend Blue Springs High School and live with a sponsor family. Given a sense of stability, Clark excelled on the court.
Then in the summer before his senior year, Clark found his true home: Sunrise Christian Academy.
A private school outside Wichita, Kansas with an intimate environment, Sunrise provided the perfect environment for Clark. The senior thrived and developed a close relationship with the school’s head coach, Kyle Lindsted.
Clark made great strides during his senior season, playing alongside fellow MSU 2014 commit Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, but Lindsted still saw major room for growth in Clark. So Lindsted decided to keep Clark at Sunrise for another year as part of a post-grad program.
“He could jump and he could run and he was big and strong, but we needed to teach him the game and the right way to play. We knew he would have one year with us, so we did this post-grad thing so we would have two years with him,” Lindsted explained. “It’s basically a fifth year of high school, and we play junior colleges and other postgrad teams with him. It doesn’t go against your eligibility, and you can make up half a credit, raise your ACT score. The main reason we did it with Marv was not for academic reasons. The reason we did it for Marv was just because we felt like he wasn’t ready mentally or physically for what he could be, and we felt his recruitment would be high if we could just get him that extra year. That’s what postgrad is, an extra year to get ready.
“Marvin is a perfect example of a kid who without that extra year, I don’t know where he would have been. His recruitment in the second year has been much.”
The decision was a wise one. Letters of interest and scholarship offers flowed into Clark’s inbox, inundating the young man with previously unimaginable opportunities to attend a Division I school for free.
“There’s no way that anyone can tell me God doesn’t exist,” Clark said. “For everything I’ve been through, I know there’s no way I got here alone.”
Clark then visited several schools in the search of the right one. As soon as Clark arrived in East Lansing, he knew Michigan State was the place for him.
“When I got there, it was crazy. As soon as I stepped on campus, it felt like home,” Clark said. “Besides Michigan State, Kansas State also has a strong family atmosphere, but the feeling I got at Michigan State was crazy. I’m not the only person who got it, my mom got it too. She called my coach and told him that’s where she wanted me to go. She didn’t do that during any other visit because originally she wanted me to stay close to home. It was almost like it was meant to be.”
Clark will accept no other explanation than God brought Clark to MSU. The 6’7, 225 pound prospect is a beast of a small forward. Clark is a well-rounded athlete, as the youngster can not only shoot, but play good defense against bigger post players in the low post.
“He’s a specimen: he can jump very well, he’s strong and athletic,” Lindsted said. “That separates Marvin, his versatility to play the wing, his body allows him to guard post players, post up and to shoot. He’s a very versatile guy, and he can score.
“Marvin is a scorer, he’s a shooter. That’s his first instinct,” Linsted said. “He’s a lefty shooter, has great rotation on his shot, gets it off pretty quick, it’s a pretty simple shot.”
Clark also has remarkable strength.
In fact, Lindsted said that at one point, Clark was “too strong.”
“We’re not very smart here, but one thing we do is we lift weights. We work very aggressively in our program…Our strength program is pretty good,” Lindsted said. “Actually at one point last year, Marvin got too big and too strong. So we’ve had to tone it down, just because he’s got one of those frames that can just put on muscle.”
However, Clark is not Superman just yet. As the Kansas native noted, he still has some aspects of the game to work on.
“Talking to [head] coach [Tom] Izzo, for me to get to the next level and be great at it, I have to be like James Harden. He’s 6’5, 220 and I’m 6’7, 225, and we’re both lefties,” Clark said. “He said I have to have my handles as tight as Harden’s. Those are the main things I’m looking to improve on, my handles, my mid-range jumper and then defensively I have to get better.”
Adjustment to his first year of college will not be easy. But Clark is ready for the challenge.
Nothing can phase him now that he has done with situations much worse. Basketball will be important to him at MSU, but not everything.
“I don’t put it on a pedestal, but basketball is really important to me. I don’t really let it use me, I use it,” Clark said. “I’m trying to use this game to take care of my family, that’s the number one goal for me. Even when I’m having problems as far as performance, I play basketball, for crying out loud. There are soldiers overseas who are dying, that’s their job. Playing basketball is my job. Regardless, it’s a blessing and I’m always happy, regardless of whether I’m going through a tough time with my performance or whether I’m at a peak.”
Lindsted also can’t imagine that Clark will struggle, as the Sunrise head coach believes strongly in his young player.
“Marvin is a very polite, kind young man. He cares what other people think about him. He’s very conscientious of what people think about him and his surroundings. He’s grown a ton in this environment we’ve had him in,” Lindsted said. “He’s very respectable, very polite. He’s a perfect gentleman; he’s honestly a stand-up guy.
“Now that he does have some things, he’s very appreciative of what he does have. He tells me all the time, ‘Coach, I know God has to exist because it’s only His hand that out me in this position to play at Michigan State, to be here at Sunrise.’ What he’s come from, the way his family lives, the way he’s grown up and and the things he’s seen and been through, it’s just a miracle that he’s here and he’s doing the things he’s doing today.”
Clark’s journey to the present day is indeed a miracle. He had endured an experience that most adults can’t fathom. His life has been filled with adversity and hardships. But no matter the odds, Clark has persevered and toiled to earn his education.
The Spartan Nation will be eagerly awaiting the arrival of Clark in the spring. The incoming freshman is set to become another valued member of an already stacked Spartans roster.
Clark will quickly become a beloved Spartan in the fall for his hard work on and off the court. But in the meantime, as Clark bides his time, think carefully about Clark’s wise words of advice to a person suffering adversity. You’ll quickly discover how this young man is truly well-beyond his years.
“First of all, fight. No matter how hard it is to get through, because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Clark said. “And pray about everything. Ask God for guidance. Before I came to Sunrise, I thought I was a Christian because I had been in church and I had been in church, but when I came to Sunrise, that’s when I got saved. That is when I met Christians. Throughout all this, God had my back and had his hand on me. To anybody out there with struggles and pain, just keep fighting through it.”
Clark wanted one point clearly made. He said, “I can’t look back on my journey with any other view than being thankful. It has been hard, but in this journey I not only found, but met Jesus Christ and I get to go to school for free. God has had my back.”
Not sure how many of us who have gone through a lot less can be so optimistic or excited. Clark can and he’s a Spartan.