Kansas Jayhawks' Zach Clemence arrives for summer school used to top competition

By Gary Bedore
The Kansas City Star (TNS)
Future Kansas Jayhawk Zach Clemence (12) puts up a shot for Findlay Prep during a December 2018 game in Sioux Falls, S.D. Clemence played at Sunrise Christian near Wichita last season.

LAWRENCE — Zach Clemence figures to adjust quickly to the pace of pickup games with players on Kansas' 2021-22 men's basketball team to be held three or four times a week over the next two months in the Jayhawks' practice facility adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse.

Remember, the 6-foot-10, 220-pound freshman forward — who enters KU's 2021 summer school session as the No. 34-ranked prospect in the recruiting Class of 2021 according to ESPN.com and No. 46 by Rivals.com — played the past two seasons at prep powerhouse Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas.

His teammates his senior season on a 21-4 team that took second at Geico Nationals included Tennessee freshman-to-be Kennedy Chandler (ranked No. 7 in Class of 2021 by Rivals.com), Baylor freshman-to-be Kendall Brown (ranked eighth nationally), Michigan State newcomer Jaden Akins (No. 44) and Wichita State frosh Kenny Pohto (unranked, once committed to Minnesota). Gradey Dick, who is headed to KU for the 2022-23 season, also was a member of the team. He's ranked No. 37 in the Class of 2022 by Rivals.com.

The skills of Clemence's prep school teammates figure to be similar to those of his new college buddies.

"Phenomenal, top of the top," Clemence said of his Sunrise Christian Academy peers in an interview with The Star conducted right before his reporting to KU's campus with his parents Saturday. "To have the No. 1 point guard (Chandler) in the country and No. 1 small forward (Brown) ... all of them were great to play with."

Of Top 10 prospects Chandler and Brown, Clemence said: "Kennedy Chandler is fast, quick, athletic. It was great to play with him because he is pass-first, always looking for teammates.

"Kendall with a 30-something vertical is a crazy athlete. He can do whatever he wants to do off his athleticism. Kenny Pohto is the big man in the paint. It was fun to have him so I could move out on the wing. Jaden Akins is athletic and can really shoot the ball. He'll do really well at Michigan State. We'll see him right away," Clemence added of point guard Akins who will play against KU in the season-opening Champions Classic in New York.

Clemence averaged 10.5 points and 5.0 rebounds a game for Sunrise Christian Academy his senior season. He hit 47% of his shots overall, 37% from three.

"Zach did great. To average double figures on a team that plays in the national championship game is pretty special," Sunrise Christian coach Luke Barnwell said in an interview with The Star.

"He was the key to the way we organize ourselves offensively. It all depends on how they covered him. He was the key component to move around in what we were trying to execute. We had Kennedy Chandler making decisions (but) how he (Clemence) was guarded would dictate the way we would play. Zach embraced that."

Overall, Clemence had an outstanding senior season, Barnwell stated.

"At times he'd look like the best player on the floor. At practice he'd dominate at times, at times get his butt kicked. That's all of them with that talent in the gym," Barnwell noted. "He was right there with the top (players nationally) and proved it time and again. We beat Prolific Prep on his baseline dunk."

In one of the key individual plays of Sunrise's season, Chandler dished to Clemence, who attacked the baseline for a resounding reverse slam to give Sunrise Christian a 56-55 lead with 33 seconds remaining in a 56-55 win over Prolific Prep in the quarterfinals at Geico Nationals.

Sunrise went on to place second in the country. Montverde Academy upended the Buffaloes, 62-52, in the national title game April 3 in Florida.

Barnwell said Clemence's role at KU figures to be "somewhat similar to what we did, inside/outside, being able to shoot face-up. He's able to play old-school, high/low. He can pass, finish around the rim, shoot it, play 4 around 1."

He doesn't figure to be intimidated by Big 12 competition, Barnwell said.

"Confidence-wise he has no fear. I don't think he will take a back seat. He'll come in and compete. He believes in himself. He is going to be ready," Barnwell noted.

Clemence returned to his hometown of San Antonio, Texas on May 12 after graduating from Sunrise. His goal was to relax a bit with family and friends prior to beginning his college adventure at KU.

"I wanted to take a nice little break. I'll be trying my hardest the next couple years to get where I want to get," Clemence said.

He has high hopes for personal improvement this summer.

"Honestly to get physically stronger and better to compete with the best competition," Clemence said.

"Honestly I am going to play whatever they have me," he added. "I am a team player. I am not going to go out and do my own thing. I am doing to try to do my best for the team wherever they put me."

KU has a big man group that consists of Clemence plus senior David McCormack, who is out a few more weeks following foot surgery, super senior Mitch Lightfoot, freshman KJ Adams, former Missouri Southern standout Cam Martin and walk-on Dillon Wilhite.

"I think it's going to be fun," Clemence said of competing with the bigs on the roster. "I don't really consider myself a 5 (true center). There's always something you can get better at. That's one of the things I can get better at (playing the 5). It'll be fun."

Clemence, who grew up in San Antonio, is friends with Adams, who is a native of Austin, Texas.

"KJ is big, athletic," Clemence said. "We played them last year and got 'em by 30, 40. Don't tell him I said that," Clemence added with a laugh.

Indeed, Sunrise Christian defeated Adams' Austin Westlake High School team, 69-41, in Bel Aire when both players were juniors.

"KJ is a shooter and big, 6-5, 6-6, 6-7. We played against each other a lot when we were younger — never together, always against each other. It'll be fun to get to play with him now," Clemence said.

Clemence is ready for the start of summer school on Tuesday.

"I've been trying to hang out the past couple weeks (in Texas). Now I'm looking forward to starting all over again," Clemence said.