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Clark credits special players, supportive coaches for success with Titans, Cavs

Kevin Mays • May 12, 2020 at 4:00 PM

For Lee Clark, there are two keys to a successful basketball program: a strong support group of coaches and players who know how to play the game.

Clark said he was blessed with both during his years coaching.

The former college and high school coach retired from the game in 2013 after 17 seasons at the helm of the Virginia-Wise men’s program.

He left as the winningest coach in program history with 210 wins and guided the team to its only two conference titles, in 2003 and 2010.

He also coached the Twin Springs boys basketball team to that program’s only VHSL Group A championship in 1993 as well as to four Region D championships during his six-year tenure with the Titans.

“It’s about having players who know how to play the game and have some talent,” Clark said. “You don’t win without them.”

LEADING THE CAVS

Clark a 1985 graduate of UVA Wise, then Clinch Valley College, returned to his alma mater to take over the men’s program after that successful run at Twin Springs.

He had to make some adjustments, he said — not so much on the court as in off-the-court situations.

“At the college level you’re trying to find the players,” Clark said. “And they’re young men who are trying to become men on their own and prepare themselves for the real world.”

College players must work through many situations off the court that they didn’t have to deal with while playing in high school, Clark said.

“You’re dealing with a lot more than trying to beat other teams,” he said.

Despite those issues, Clark enjoyed coaching at the college level in the always-tough Appalachian Athletic Conference. The Cavaliers faced a league gauntlet featuring such regional rivals as King, Virginia Intermont, Milligan and Bluefield and then-coaches Scott Polsgrove, Phil Worrell, Tommy Wallingford and Tommy Brown.

“Those were great guys and we had some real battles,” Clark said. “They had some good teams. It just made it a lot more exciting to play those rival games.”

Clark was blessed with some quality players along the way.

Zack Moore led Clark’s 2003 squad to the AAC championship and a school-record 24 wins. Moore, the program’s only NAIA All-American, teamed with Ricky Brown, Bobby Hedrick, Brandon Green and Jeremy Houseright, to name a few, to secure the Cavs’ first conference crown.

Clark coached other greats like Stacy Ervin and Zack Law, one of the best pure basketball players the coach said he’s ever seen play the game.

“We had some great players,” Clark said.

Among them was one who made a great play in 2010 when UVA Wise finished the regular-season in a four-way tie with Brevard, Union and Bluefield. Junior Kevin Perry hit a last-second shot in the AAC tournament championship against Union to give Clark his second conference title at Wise.

THE EARLY DAYS

Clark started coaching while still in college, working as a high school junior varsity coach at J.J. Kelly in Wise. The job fueled his fire and caused him to consider coaching as a profession, he said.

And he learned at an early age to lean on veteran coaches for assistance.

“(Former Kelly coach) Dave Bentley was always there. Even after we started competing against each other, he would answer the phone and answer any question I had,” Clark noted.

Kelly assistant coach Robert Stinson was also a role model, Clark said.

“He knew more about dealing with high schools than anyone I’ve ever met,” the coach recalled.

Other former UVA Wise coaches like Barney Hall and Preston Mitchell were key advisers to Clark during his formative years as a coach.

Their advice helped him when he took over at Twin Springs.

That assistance, Clark’s coaching and good players paid big dividends for the Titans, including a dramatic state championship win at University Hall on the Virginia campus in 1993.

Twin Springs pulled out the state title over Franklin in the final seconds when Chad Ervin sank a buzzer-beater to lift the Titans to a 60-59 victory.

The state title was the highlight of Clark’s successful high school coaching career that saw him build a 126-28 record in six seasons. He led Twin Springs to the state tournament four times, including three final four appearances, and four 20-win seasons.

Clark was the Region D coach of the year four times and Cumberland District coach of the year five of his six seasons.

“It was a fun ride,” he said.

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