Senior forward Shaquille Cleare isn’t one to call attention to himself. He always uses “we” when speaking to the media and never delves into talking about individual accomplishments.
Take Texas’ thrilling 84-83 win over Oklahoma on Jan. 23 for example. Cleare imposed his will all night long. He scored a career-high 23 points, made a career-high 10-of-14 field goals and tied his career high in rebounds with eight. But he uttered a mere five words to assess his performance.
“It’s a great feeling, man,” Cleare said.
He quickly proceeded to talk about the team.
“But to move off me a little bit, I’m surrounded by great guards,” Cleare said. “A lot of guys play with selfish guys. My guys are really unselfish. They share the ball well, and they put me in good positions.”
Cleare’s humble, selfless personality is one that surely resonates with head coach Shaka Smart, who constantly preaches about the importance of being devoted to the team. At a recent press conference, Smart raved about Cleare’s impact.
“Shaq’s been our most consistent person this year (and) most consistent teammate,” Smart said. “He’s been by far our most unselfish player on our team. He’s been a guy that has sacrificed at times, and his attitude has always been great.”
Cleare has been around the block more than a few times. This is his 10th semester of college. He played two seasons at Maryland, then had to sit out a year at Texas after transferring. With so much youth on this Texas roster, Cleare is like an elder statesman in the locker room.
And while he may not be the most boisterous teammate, he still is one that players look up to.
“We want him to speak up even more just because he knows a lot more than (the younger) guys,” Smart said. “He’s not the most outgoing, talkative guy around people, but when he does speak up, it carries a lot of weight. I’ve just tried to encourage him — you’re never gonna regret speaking up and saying something. You’ll regret not saying it.”
The past six games have been the most productive stretch of Cleare’s career. He’s averaging 8.5 points per game and shooting at a 57.9 percent clip during that span. One of the biggest reasons behind Cleare’s success is the improvement in his post play. Cleare’s crafty baby-hook shot has become a viable asset in his game.
“He’s worked on it a lot,” Smart said. “His confidence has really grown there. Shaq is hard on himself. You’ve probably seen it in some of our games where he’ll shoot a jump hook and it’ll hit the front of the rim, and you can kind of see him grimace because he knows that’s a shot he can make.”
The Longhorns (9-13, 3-6 Big 12) travel to Fort Worth to meet TCU on Saturday. The Horned Frogs defeated Texas in the first meeting this season in Austin, 64-61. Freshman forward Jarrett Allen led Texas with 18 points and nine rebounds.
Texas struggled to contain TCU junior forward Vladimir Brodziansky and freshman guard Jaylen Fisher. Brodziansky led all scorers with 19 points, and Fisher added 16 points.
Texas tips off against TCU at noon.