Photo credit: sjsuspartans.com
By Ana Kieu
George Clark, the first San Jose State men’s basketball player to finish a three-year career averaging in double-figure scoring and double-figure rebounding, passed away peacefully on December 4, 2019, at age 89 in Lincoln, California.
Born July 2, 1930, in Gibbons, Nebraska, the Clark family of seven migrated west to Oregon before settling in California during the Great Depression. A basketball, football and baseball letter-winner and one-time student body president at San Jose (Calif.) High School, George Clark originally enrolled at the University of Southern California, but transferred to San Jose State College where he flourished as the Spartans’ 6’6″ center.
In his three varsity seasons playing for coach Walt McPherson, San Jose State had a winning record each season, was nationally-ranked by the Associated Press for the last three weeks of the 1949-50 season, and appeared in a NCAA Tournament for the first time when the 1951 team lost to #11 Brigham Young University, 68-61, in a first-round (Sweet 16) game in Kansas City, Missouri.
A STAR & RECORD-SETTER
Mr. Clark was a second-team All-California Collegiate Athletic Association award winner as a sophomore on the 1950 team that posted a record of 21-7, San Jose State’s third consecutive 20-win season; was named to an All-Independent team for his play in 1951; and was co-captain of the 1952 squad that finished with a 15-10 win-loss record.
“George did not like to lose. He had a fire in him. That’s why he was a good rebounder,” said Dean Giles, his teammate on the 1950 and 1951 San Jose State teams.
“He understood the game pretty well and he anticipated well. And, he was a good passing center. Offensively, we used to run ‘rubs.’ We ran everything off of a high post. It was ‘Kentucky-style’ basketball. George was an integral part of our offense.”
“He understood how to block out and retrieve the ball. He caused most centers a lot of trouble. He was a dominant center in our conference. I can’t think of a better one. George did a good job rebounding. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have gotten as far we did.”
During his San Jose State career, Mr. Clark averaged 10.0 points a game in scoring and 11.4 rebounds a game in the 75 games he played. He and Coby Dietrick, who played for the 1969 through 1971 Spartans and then 13 seasons in the ABA and NBA, are the only Spartans to have double-figure career averages in points and rebounds.
“His trademark was the hook shot. There weren’t many who could shoot that shot. He could ‘hook’ it from the foul line in. He was a good teammate. I always enjoyed playing with George,” Giles said.
Mr. Clark remains the San Jose State record holder single-season record holder for most rebounds in a season (376 in 1952), rebound average in a season (16.4 per game in 1952), and rebound average in a career (11.4 per game). He set a single-game school record of 27 rebounds in a 51-49 win over the University of Oregon on January 3, 1952, which was broken five seasons later.
Clark’s college teammates included former San Jose State career scoring leader and Portland Trail Blazers’ general manager Stu Inman (1926-2007), six-time San Francisco 49ers’ All-Pro end Billy Wilson (1927-2009), former University of Portland men’s basketball coach Jack Avina (1929-2018), and former Harlem Globetrotter Bobby Crowe. Mr. Clark played in New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium as a Spartan.
“George had a leadership style about him. He was like a coach on the floor. He was a very competitive guy,” said San Jose State basketball alum and former Santa Clara University men’s basketball coach Carroll Williams, a teammate of Mr. Clark’s on the local Green Frog Market AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) team back in the 1950’s. “He was a really good college player.
“We ran a lot of ‘Guard Around’ and ‘Forward Around.’ (In) ‘Guard Around,’ the forward would hit the post and back screen for the guard. Then, George would make the pass or take a hook (shot). In ‘Forward Around,’ the guard would hit the post and screen down for the forward to come around,” added Williams, who was a student teacher at San Jose High when Mr. Clark also served as the school’s boys’ basketball coach.
TEACHERS & BROADWAY MUSICALS
Mr. Clark graduated from San Jose State in 1953 as a physical education major. He would later earn a master’s degree in general administration from his alma mater in 1966.
Professionally, Mr. Clark was a high school teacher and administrator in Santa Clara, Monterey, Kings and Santa Cruz counties in Northern and Central California for 37 years. As a school administrator, he was invited to Brazil, Peru, Mexico, and Columbia to share his experiences in the field of secondary education.
A fan of Broadway musicals, Mr. Clark remained connected to San Jose State long after his playing career. He founded the Santa Cruz chapter of the San Jose State University Alumni Association in 1985 and was the association’s president from 1995 through 1997. Enshrined in the San Jose State Sports Hall of Fame, Mr. Clark was a long-time member of the Order of Sparta, a former athletes association that recommended Spartan greats for induction, and the Spartan Foundation, the fund-raising volunteers for San Jose State University Athletics.
“San Jose State lost a dear, cherished and loyal alum recently in George Clark. It was easy to recognize him as a former Spartan basketball player, because George took over the room, and he was one of the best to play here,” said San Jose State University director of athletics Marie Tuite.
“George meant so much more to San Jose State and to Spartan Athletics than just his playing contributions. He was active in alumni social activities, attended as many athletics events as possible, and always had a kind word, found the silver lining, and maintained a jovial, genuine and positive outlook on life.
“We join many others expressing condolences to Bonnie, his wife, and their children. George loved his Spartans and he left a lasting impression on many of us. He will be dearly missed by many.”
Mr. Clark is survived by his wife of 65 years, Bonnie (Dohemann) Clark; daughters Kristen Clark Cozad, Terry Clark Gilmete and her husband Silvestre, and Remy Clark Nutter and her husband Patrick; brother-in-law and wife, Gordon and Sharon Dohemann; five grandchildren; two great grandsons, and many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of life for Mr. Clark will be scheduled in the future. In lieu of flowers, the family recommends donations to the San Jose State University Spartan Athletics Fund or the William Jessup University men’s basketball program.
Mr. Clark will be remembered and honored at San Jose State’s next home men’s basketball game, against Stanford University on Saturday, December 14 at 4:00 p.m.