A year ago, Tristan Clark could be seen playing basketball at Judson High, a public school located 15 miles northeast of San Antonio.
The 6-foot-9-inch junior forward might be a little tougher to find these days playing at national power Findlay Prep, which has a travel itinerary to Arizona, Massachusetts, South Dakota and New York this season.
It’s all just a part of the pseudo-college experience Clark wanted before eventually going back to Texas.
“The competition level at practice is one of a kind,” said Clark, who orally committed to home-state Baylor on Oct. 16. “Especially going from a public school to (playing with) some of the best players in the country. That’s what I was really intrigued about. And then the traveling and being away from home.”
Clark, a consensus four-star prospect in the class of 2017, is one of eight new players who have joined the Findlay Prep program this season. The Pilots, ranked No. 1 in USA Today’s preseason top 25, haven’t shown a lack of chemistry with all the new faces. They’ve gotten off to a 6-0 start this season — all home wins — and are averaging 127.3 points per game.
But the team still has much higher goals in mind.
“I just want to win the national championship and have fun,” Clark said. “And make a lot of memories with my team.”
That’s where the 6 a.m. conditioning comes in. The rigorous weight training. The film study. The intrasquad scrimmages pitting 12 future Division I players against each other.
“We try to make a lot of our practices harder than games,” Findlay Prep coach Andy Johnson said. “When you put 12 competitive kids together who want to win in everything, they’re going to push each other and make each other better. And I really think that’s helped Tristan out.”
It was this type of environment that brought Clark out west in the first place.
Though he received a scholarship offer from Baylor before joining Findlay Prep and didn’t need to move, Clark wanted to get a jump-start on the rigors of college basketball.
“It was just becoming a man and being on my own,” Clark said of leaving his hometown of Converse. “Showing that I can live without my mom and other support. I can support myself. It’s getting an early (college) experience.”
In six games with the Pilots this season, Clark is averaging 11.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
“He’s kind of done a little bit of everything for us this year,” Johnson said. “A little bit of a stat stuffer. He’s one of our best rebounders, he’s our best shot blocker, and he really runs the floor well for his size.”
And even if it means coming off the bench, like he’s done this season, Clark says he’s willing to embrace any role he’s given. He’s never been a me-first type of player.
“I’ve just got to take my role and go with it,” Clark said. “Be unselfish and make the right plays. It’s about how I can help the team win. I just want to win.”
Because that’s ultimately how it will be at the next level.
In his short time with the Pilots, Clark already has proven his ability to play with other big-time recruits. He’s also added 12 pounds to his frame and is up to 225.
“He’s been working really, really hard and you see the progress every day,” Johnson said. “The sky is the limit for Tristan. It’s off the charts.”
But it won’t be long before Clark returns home to the Lone Star State. The Baylor campus in Waco is just a 2½-hour drive from his hometown — close enough for his family and friends to come see him play.
“Every time I went home, I went to Baylor,” Clark said. “And every time I went to Baylor, I just felt like it was home. … I’m fully committed. I love Coach (Scott) Drew. I know a lot of people there. My mom’s really close and I have a strong connection with her. It was just a perfect fit.”
In the meantime, Clark will continue to refine his game at Findlay Prep so that he’s able to make an immediate impact once he steps foot on the Baylor campus.
“He’s got the potential to be a phenomenal player,” Johnson said.
Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430. Follow him on Twitter: @af_ferguson.