For the Clarkes, family matters when it comes to athletics
When Butler University guard Rotnei Clarke drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Marquette last week, then followed up the shot with a 17-point effort to help take down the No. 9 ranked North Carolina Tarheels, rest assured his biggest fan was watching.
Saint Louis University senior setter Cassie Clarke often lived in the shadow of older brother Rotnei, but came into her own after transferring to SLU before her junior year. The brother-sister duo have been competing on and off the court since they were kids growing up in Oklahoma.
Cassie led the volleyball team in setting in both of her seasons with the squad, wrapping up her senior season on Nov. 21, when the Billikens lost to the University of Kansas. Her teammates viewed her as a leader, on the court and off.
“We always play so hard and work well together on and off the court… I love my teammates and these two years that I have gotten to spend with them,” Cassie said after the season ended.
Now, a new season begins for Cassie – that of fan, as she watches her brother lead Butler in its first season as a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Rotnei originally signed with the University of Arkansas, but after leading the Razorbacks in scoring during his junior season, he decided it was time for a change amid coaching and philosophy changes within the basketball program.
He finally decided to transfer to Butler, sitting out the ensuing season because of NCAA rules. Cassie had followed Rotnei to the University of Arkansas, accepting a scholarship to play volleyball in Fayetteville, as the family had moved there after Rotnei decided on Arkansas.
Cassie is no basketball slouch herself — she was the MVP of the Arkansas state tournament her senior year of high school, when she led her team to a 32-0 season en route to a state championship.
“She’s going to play Division I basketball, there’s no doubt about that. There are a lot of Division I schools after her,” Cassie’s uncle and one-time high school basketball coach Rocky Clarke said during Cassie’s high school career. However, Cassie wasn’t quite as interested in basketball as she was in another sport.
“I loved playing the actual [basketball] games, but the training and consistently working on my shot I didn’t enjoy as much [as volleyball],” Cassie said.
As her Division I athletic career comes to a close, Cassie is excited to cheer on her brother as he takes to the court again, this time against Atlantic 10 competition.
“Words cannot express how excited I am for Rotnei to come to Chaifetz. I will definitely be making the trip to Indianapolis when SLU plays there as well,” Cassie said of the opportunity to see her brother in action.
For a family so close, it was difficult for Cassie to part ways with her brother after spending two years together at Arkansas, but she could not be happier with where she ended up.
“I knew right when I got on campus here [at SLU] that this is where the Lord wanted me to be. If Rotnei would have transferred first, that might have altered my decision, so it’s probably a good thing that I went first. It’s very hard that we are in different places now; I was so used to seeing and hanging out with him whenever I wanted,” Cassie said.
Rotnei and Cassie aren’t the only athletes in the Clarke family.
Both of their parents were college athletes as well, and uncles Kelly and Rocky coached Rotnei and Cassie in high school. Needless to say, the household was competitive when the two younger Clarkes were growing up.
“That would be an understatement,” Cassie said. “Everything was a competition with my brother and me. It was a lot of fun and has shaped me to be the person that I am today. My parents always taught us good values and that sports weren’t everything, though.”
When asked which sibling is the better athlete, Cassie replied that it’s “obviously me,” before quickly adding that she’s only kidding.
“This absolutely kills me to say and I would never tell Rotnei this, but yes, he is pretty good at volleyball,” Cassie said. “We would always play one-on-one basketball and I knew I didn’t really have a shot at beating him at that. I did take him in HORSE every once in a while, though.”
Cassie’s 5-foot-11 frame was never quite enough to match the stronger Rotnei in one-on-one matchups in the backyard and at the gym.
So what colors will Cassie be sporting when Rotnei comes to Chaifetz Arena on Jan. 31 to take on the Billikens?
“I am friends with some of the basketball guys and they are great people, but blood is thicker than water. I will probably be sporting my Butler Bulldogs shirt at the game while cheering for SLU, too,” Cassie said.
“If you can’t tell, we are very close,” Cassie added with a smile.