As a four-sport high school standout and a four-year starter on the Harvard women’s basketball team, co-captain Christine Clark has seen many a season come and go.
However, when the final buzzer sounded inside the Rutgers Athletic Center on Mar. 24, the 63-52 defeat for the Crimson in the second round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament signaled not only a difficult end to another Harvard season, but also the close of Clark’s career in Crimson.
For Clark and her fellow seniors, she says, the disappointing finality of the loss was tempered by a sense of accomplishment for everything the group achieved together during their four years in Cambridge.
Although Harvard never broke through to capture the Ivy League championship during Clark’s tenure with the team, the Crimson finished second in the Ivy League in four consecutive seasons and reached the second round of the WNIT three years in a row.
But the veteran guard had little opportunity to reflect on her decorated collegiate career in the days following its conclusion, as she turned her focus toward preparing for her next athletic pursuit: professional basketball.
“With women’s basketball, there’s a lot of opportunity overseas, and you can go live in Europe for free basically,” Clark said. “That’s kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The Harvard women’s basketball program has a history of producing players who have gone on to play professionally overseas.
Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, who after 32 years in Cambridge stands as the winningest head coach in Ivy League history, says that around 20 of her former players have pursued careers in Europe.
Given the varying experiences of these players, Delaney-Smith stresses the uncertainty involved in trying to find a roster spot abroad.
Due to the fluid nature of European scouting and scheduling, garnering recognition from foreign organizations can prove challenging.
“Brogan Berry [’12] was the last player I had who tried to go play,” Delaney-Smith said. “Unfortunately…she did it in an Olympic year where the calendar was entirely changed.”
In addition to the problems presented by the structure of the European system, Delaney-Smith notes that Clark’s on-floor position may pose an additional challenge as she seeks interest from teams.
Due to the prevalence of the small-ball style of play in Europe, the continent produces a plethora of skilled guards but lacks a pool of talented frontcourt players to draw from. As a result, European organizations usually seek forwards and centers when they scout American players.
Because Clark plays guard, the Tucson, Ariz. native faces more competition for recognition than she would at another position.
Delaney-Smith admits the troubles of this reality but also understands Clark’s talent.
“Guards are a dime a dozen in Europe,” Delaney-Smith said. “[Clark’s] an elite-level guard, so if she stays persistent, I’m sure she’ll get to the right place.”
So far, Clark has indeed been proactive in her efforts to make headway through an otherwise uncertain process.
She says she has frequently looked to Delaney-Smith and other friends in the basketball world for advice, and she has reached out to former Harvard forward Katie Rollins ’08, who played professionally overseas in Germany.
Clark has also worked closely with her agent, Joe Dinda of Alliance Sports Management, to market herself to potential clubs.
The two have created a profile for Clark containing game film that has been sent to prospective coaches and organizations.
Dinda has placed players in locations all over Europe, including Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Poland.
For now, all Clark can do is wait as teams collect information and make their assessments about prospects.
The senior guard says that teams do not begin to make offers until June, when they have finished discussing and organizing their finances and have determined which players they wish to target and sign.
This long delay gives Clark the chance to settle down after what she admits has been a very hectic and stressful time for her.
As she reflects on her career in Cambridge, she will no doubt have a great deal to be proud of.
Clark ranks fourth and second all-time in Harvard history in points and free throws made, respectively, and was selected to the All-Ivy League first team three times.
Her coach, who refers to her affectionately as “Clarky,” praised the co-captain’s impact on the program.
“Clarky is the kind of player you love to coach. Her work ethic is phenomenal,” Delaney-Smith lauded. “Day in and day out, she doesn’t ever take a day off…. There isn’t a piece of the program she hasn’t touched.”
That work ethic should serve Clark well in the coming months, as she will be without formal basketball practices and games before her potential return to organized basketball, this time in the professional ranks.
The senior has been playing pick-up games and lifting to stay in shape, and she will pick up the intensity of her workouts over the summer as she has in previous years.
Despite the prospect of professional basketball looming, Clark has a more immediate focus: final exams and graduation.
“Right now, I think, my primary goal is to get through finals and finish strong academically,” Clark noted.
As she prepares to graduate and leave Cambridge, Clark looks forward to a potential opportunity to continue playing the sport she loves, and hopes that that 63-52 loss to Rutgers in the WNIT is not her last competitive contest.
“I’m really not ready to stop playing basketball,” Clark said.
—Staff writer Phil Delamater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.