Pyramid to go British

Junior forward Ella Clark won’t be blowing the candles out at home, but she will be celebrating her 22nd birthday inside a British-themed Walter Pyramid with her sisters.

Following the Saturday game against UC Riverside, the 49ers will be hosting British Night at the ‘Mid to help send Clark and her teammates to the land of Big Ben, Fish and Chips and David Beckham.

“I’m not sure what the whole game entails, but I’m hoping to see a flag that big hanging up in the Pyramid,” Clark said as she looked up at the giant American flag displayed inside the Pyramid.

But while there may or may not be a giant British flag flying in the ‘Mid that night, it will be the closest thing to hoops outside of the states.

The LBSU women’s basketball team will host British Night at the Pyramid after a game Saturday.

 

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British Baller

If it wasn’t for the welcoming family atmosphere, Ella Clark wouldn’t be a 49er.

The 49ers’ junior forward made a decision early on in her life that few people are forced to make: she uprooted her life in London for a chance to play collegiate basketball here in the states.

But given her unique style of play and exposure to a different type of basketball in London, the 6-foot-3 Clark plays a game that is completely different than that of most 6-foot-3 players native to the United States.

Ella Clark’s overseas training has helped her become a star forward at LBSU.

“In America, if you’re 6-3, you’re told never to dribble, and you’re pretty much told to play with your back to the basket,” head coach Jody Wynn said. “But in Europe, the bigger players play like the guards. All the fundamentals of ball handling and shooting are taught at an early age for the taller players as well.”

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Ella Clark traded in the fog and pebbly beaches of London for the sunny sandy beaches of Long Beach.

 

After a rough start to her junior year, the co-captain has improved her level of play, looking more like the Ella Clark coach Wynn saw last year. Since opening the season with just three points and one rebound against California, Clark has come back and averaged 7.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. She has also registered a team-high 12 blocks.

Clark’s thin, wiry frame allows her to play a level of defense that’s second to no one on her team. Clark is the tallest starter, and given her family history, it’s no surprise that she’s got the type of build that she does.

While Clark yields an impressive 6-foot-8 wingspan, her mother has her beat with a wingspan of 6 feet 10 inches.

However, the helpful basketball genes don’t come from just one side of Clark’s family, as she comes from a popular basketball family in London. Her father Mark also played basketball and is currently the head coach of the Great Britain senior women’s national team that Clark was added to earlier this year.

Clark’s older brother Dan made similar use of his top-of-the-shelf genes, moving out of the house at age 14 to play basketball in Spain. He eventually joined the Brits on the court and became an Olympian in 2012. Clark said she and her brother spent a substantial amount of time taking jumpers in the driveway, with her father coaching them.

“Growing up, we had a hoop in the driveway,” Clark said. “Always being around [the game] made a big difference because I got to hang around players with so much experience.”

Like her brother, Clark was given the tough choice of deciding where her basketball career would take her next. Unlike her brother, Clark made the decision to uproot herself and travel to the other side of the globe, choosing Long Beach State over east coast schools like St. Joseph’s, Drexel and Maine.

Wynn said she wouldn’t have known about Clark if it weren’t for a former club basketball coach that Wynn knew from her high school days. Wynn talked to the coach, and after some more steps and calls, she eventually talked to Clark on the phone.

“We reached Ella [Clark’s] father and talked to Ella [Clark] on the phone,” Wynn said. “We saw a lot of video of her and brought her out on a visit.”

Despite the visit and positive vibes from said visit, Wynn said she and her staff were worried about location being a problem for Clark.

“It’s a lot easier for those European kids to go to the east coast because it’s a six-hour flight or an eight-hour flight versus two flights that are 11 or 12 hours,” Wynn said.

Clark admitted that at times, the separation between her and her family is tough.

“There are times when I wished I was closer so my parents could come out more often for those long weekends,” Clark said.

But teammate Alex Sanchez has been a key part of the welcoming family atmosphere that has kept Clark in 49ers black and gold.

Two weeks ago when everyone was sharing their Thanksgiving meal with friends and family, Sanchez and her family shared their meal with Clark.

“With her being outside her country, I kind of took her under my wing,” Sanchez said. “Whenever we have family events and she’s not doing anything, I always include her.”

For Clark, it’s that sense of family that allowed her to get through the lonelier nights.

“You feel like a part of her family as well,” Clark said. “It’s nice being so far away [from my family] and actually having an extended family.”

Clark is looking forward to returning the favor next summer when the 49ers are planning and fundraising a trip to London as a scheduled foreign tour in August.

“Because I came here not knowing anything, I’ve always had to have someone around me to do things,” she said. “Back there, I can be that person for them.” 

LBSU women’s basketball team raising money for London trip

The Long Beach State women’s basketball team is trying to raise enough money for a trip to England next August. They’re also trying to raise enough money to bring Ella Clark home.

The 49ers hosted a Pyramid Party in the Walter Pyramid in October, where silent auction prizes, such as dinner with players or coaches, were sold to raise money.

Many of the players and coaches spoke to attendees about the upcoming year and their much appreciated support at the first of many fundraising events that the team will host to raise the $70,000 needed to touch down in Ella’s backyard.

“I’m excited if we do get to go there,” junior guard Hallie Meneses said.  “Going on a foreign trip to London would be amazing, not only because most of us have never been there, but just to be exposed to foreign players, a different style of play and overall being in a different atmosphere that doesn’t belong to us.”

LBSU’s basketball team raise money for London trip

Although Meneses said she has traveled before — she flew to the Philippines when she was eight years old — she’s in the minority. Many players on the team have never traveled outside the United States.

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photo credit: Todd Johnson

“For some of them, they haven’t even gotten passports [and] they’ve never been out of the country,” Clark said.  “You could probably say it’d be life changing for them. It’s going to be a great experience and especially to experience international basketball. Some of them want to play overseas, so it’ll give them their first taste of that.”

The tour would allow the 49ers to play elite international teams within a 10-day span, while giving those players interested in basketball after college the opportunity to get a feel of what life would be like in that type of environment, Wynn said.

Despite the increased number of out-of-state players this year, coach Wynn and her staff have made it a point to give every player on their roster the chance to play in front of their home crowd or somewhere close to their hometown.

“Ella [Clark] is the only returner on the team that would not have experienced playing in front of her friends and family,” Wynn said.

The news that the 49ers would try to visit London was revealed during a summer team meeting prior to Clark’s most recent departure to Britain. While there, Clark trained and joined the Great Britain Senior National Team; if the team qualifies for the 2016 Summer Olympics, she’ll be in Rio in three years.

“It’s a dream come true,” Wynn said. “To be able to say that we’re true to our word, in the sense that we always recruit and that if you come from far away, we’ll go and play in front of your friends and family and bring Long Beach to you.”

Wynn also said that given NCAA rules that European tours are allowed just once every four years, this will be the first and last time these team members will have such an opportunity.

“Some of us only have one year left, and some of us have four,” Meneses said. “To bring that away with us, and for me to tell my future kids one day that I went to London … I know all of my teammates want to be able to say that.”

For Clark, it’s not the traveling that’s important to her, but the ability to bring two major parts of her life together and share something with her team that few international athletes can say they have.

“It’d be amazing [to go home], especially to go with my team,” Clark said. “It would be a different experience for them to see how I live. I’ve been around here for four years, and I’ve seen how they live. To give them my perspective on things and the different culture and stuff, the experience would be great for them.”

 

Smith gets the job done in London

With both teams licking their wounds to kill time on the flight to England, it was anyone’s game Sunday between the 49ers and the Denver Broncos.  The Broncos, coming off their embarrassing 14-59 performance against the Oakland Raiders a week prior and the 49ers losing to the Carolina Panthers.

Last week, David Carr was given an opportunity to take the reins as the quarterback of the quarterback-less 49ers, but failed to meet expectations similar to those of the team at the start of the season.  Although his time under center was forced because of an injury to Alex Smith late in the game against Carolina, it was enough to see that his decision making was too much like Alex and it was time to give plan C a try.

Plan C goes by the name of Smith, Troy Smith, the Heisman winning quarterback that was drafted out of Ohio State in 2007.  The same Troy Smith that had a website made for him by Browns fans urging Cleveland Browns management to take him in the draft.  Browns management failed to listen but the poll is still out to whether or not that decision will be a costly one. Smith would be drafted in Day 2 at the end of the fifth round.

Don’t get me wrong, Troy Smith didn’t have a great game, as he only passed for 197 yards and a score, but he did get the job done, completing 8 of 10 passes for 110 yards with a late touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree that put them ahead.

You couldn’t expect a guy who a week ago was third in line, but to see that he took advantage of his opportunity and kept from making a mistake that those ahead of him would most likely have made gives a little hope to the quarterback situation.

The defense was able to keep Kyle Orton and the Broncos out of the red-zone, allowing them only 16 points on the day despite a 369 yard outing by Orton. Frank Gore made Smith’s job a lot easier as well, carrying the rock for 118 yards and a touchdown.

“Our receivers just told our coaches, ‘you know, let’s play,’” Gore said. “We can’t try to hold stuff back. You know our coaches called it and Troy did a great job … he made big plays when it counted and when we needed it.”

I’m sure the bye week couldn’t have come soon enough for Coach Singletary and his staff.

“We’re going to continue to go forward with Troy Smith right now,” Singletary said. “We’re going into the bye week and as far as Alex Smith is concerned, it’s a week-to-week deal. I’ll wait and talk to our doctors, trainers, whatever. But we’ll make those decisions when we need to.”