Name: Shaquille Cleare
Weight: 260 lbs
Position: Power Forward/Center
High School: The Village School. Houston, Texas
As A Recruit: 4-star by 247Sports.com, 46th ranked player in class of 2012
90’s Hip-Hop Comparison: “Who Let The Dogs Out” by Baha Men
Career Highlight: 8 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal vs #14 NC State. Cleare and Len both helped keep Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie in check to lead Maryland to their first ranked upset victory during the Mark Turgeon era. Cleare’s stat line may not be much, but his impact was felt when Len was off the court and he still managed to stay productive against a formidable front line.
2012-2013 in review: With Shaquille Cleare, there’s no other way around it: he failed to live up to expectations in 2012-2013. A top 50 recruit is typically expected to come in and produce, and there is very little evidence to suggest that Cleare did much of that. 3.7 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, 58% shooting and only three games with double-figure scoring. Of course, he only played 12 minutes per game, which was the lowest of any player with a scholarship on the roster.
Yet that’s the caveat which allows us to hold out continued hope for Shaquille Cleare, and one in which we will cling to. It’s difficult to expect much production when you’re playing behind an NBA lottery pick who is far superior on defense, and a guy who meshes well with the aforementioned player in that he’s an incredible rebounder. Charles Mitchell and James Padgett were bound to get more minutes over Cleare because one has more experience, while the other had one of the highest rebounding rates in the ACC last season. Lost in the mix was Shaq.
Cleare ought to have been able to beat out Mitchell for more minutes given the expectations heading into college and that he was in far better shape, yet he didn’t. Even while he was on the court, Cleare didn’t do a ton with his minute allotment: when he played 15 minutes or more per game, his scoring was still a lowly 6.2 PPG and his defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) was only ahead of Pe’Shon Howard. Given that he played against subs most of the year, that doesn’t seem to add up.
But all wasn’t lost of Cleare, as the offense was considerably more productive with Cleare on the court. Outside of Len, Aronhalt, and Padgett, whenever Shaquille Cleare was on the court the Terps ended up scoring more. That doesn’t seem to mesh with common sense all that well, considering he didn’t generate much offense and he was a complete black hole when the ball was given to him (his assist rate was one of the lowest recorded at Maryland with players over 400 minutes). But because he shot such a high field goal percentage and could actually run with the team, more possessions equated to more points scored.
Still, by and large, there wasn’t a whole lot to like about Cleare’s game. Decent offense, poor rebounding, and even worse defense exacerbated by a limiting of minutes down the stretch and less productivity. That’s why we call big men “projects.”
What’s the best news for Shaquille Cleare? Big men are fine wines in that they typically get better with time (unless your physical frame does not permit it so a la James Padgett). Cleare is an absolute animal in the gym, and if you’ve seen him lately you may not even recognize him: he’s jacked. The easiest route to developing a big man into a formidable foe is hard work. Footwork, shooting form, and time in the weight room. If you’re a low post scorer, you want to be as strong as possible down there, and that’s where Cleare should excel.
With the added muscle onto an already hulk frame, Cleare should have ample opportunity to score a lot of points when he’s actually fed shots by the Terps poor point guard play. That may, in fact, be the biggest hindrance to Cleare not becoming a monster down low: who can get him the ball? A guy who shoots with a higher percentage than most big men in the NCAA ought to get a lot of looks, but if Maryland can’t complete entry passes to Shaq it’ll be impossible.
As I go down the list of centers in the ACC, I can’t think of any one person who will be able to stop Shaq from getting proper positioning down low, and that should terrify the league. He’ll get into his spots, assuming Maryland strives to run the same inside-out offense they ran last year. It’s what he does after that which will matter the most.
Given what I just said about shooting percentage and ability to establish himself on the block (trebled with an incredibly low turnover rate), the entire offense should run through Cleare. Provided he has learned how to recognize double teams, which is something that develops over time, Cleare should rack up assists on open shooters. He hasn’t shown himself to be a competent passer yet, but year two of a center’s development in college is huge for that.
If teams sag off him and stick with man-to-man coverage, he has a few solid post moves and super soft hands that should allow him to drop in numerous buckets. All that is contingent, of course, on actually getting the ball though. If Maryland can’t get Cleare the ball, then expect underwhelming performance from the center.
I fully expect Cleare to improve on the defensive end of things. There were a lot of times where Cleare was definitively out of position last year, and struggled to get accustomed to the speed of the game. He also played out of position at power forward a lot due to Len, and was required to guard guys who could stretch the floor. The best place for Cleare is going up against other centers in the post, and that’s where he should be this entire year as Smotrycz is much better suited at the four.
I do expect a jump in Cleare’s performance overall because of this subtle positional change, but I would urge everyone to temper expectations despite how much work he has put in at the gym. Will he be better? Absolutely. Will he become the focal point of the team and an NBA prospect? Settle down, guys.
Up next: Charles Mitchell