Exclusive interview with 2019 draft-eligible prospect Elijah Clarance

Photo: FIBA

Photo: FIBA

The leading scorer of the 2018 FIBA U20 European Championship talks about his experiences in the United States and Germany, as well as the upcoming NBA Draft

The NBA pre-draft process is upon us with hundreds of players who have decided to test the waters and try to get some feedback from decision-makers ahead of June’s draft. In addition to the early-entry candidates and the seniors coming out of college, there are some former NCAA D1 players who decided to play professionally in Europe and become automatically draft-eligible.

Last week, we released an interview with former Oklahoma State guard Tavarius Shine, an auto-eligible prospect who just finished his first pro season in Sweden. This time, Sportando had the chance to catch up with 1998-born Swedish prospect Elijah Clarance.

Clarance, a 6-foot-5 guard from Malmo, Sweden, started playing basketball in his hometown before he moved to the United States to play in high school and college. After one year at Illinois State in the NCAA D1, he was able to draw some attention at the FIBA U20 European Championship as he led the tournament in scoring with 22.4 points per game while playing for the Swedish national team. Clarance decided to leave Illinois State after his freshman year and now he’s been playing as a professional in Germany with the Fraport Skyliners. In his first season as a pro, Clarance is averaging 4.6 points and 1.8 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game in the EuroCup and the German BBL, the national first division. Despite the limited playing time, he’s shown a lot of energy and great athleticism on both ends of the floor. He had a season-high 15 points in 19 minutes in a EuroCup matchup against Lokomotiv Kuban. Clarance has also appeared in 17 games for the Skyliners’junior team in the German Pro B, averaging 12.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals in 25.2 minutes of action.

Here’s the outcome of our interview with Elijah Clarance.

First of all, I’d like to ask you about your experience in the United States, where you played in high school and college. So how would you describe this experience and how important was it for you not only as a player but also as a person?

I played three years at Santa Maria Goretti in Hagerstown, Maryland. I think it was the best decision that I could have made as far as my transition into the basketball player that I am today because I feel like in the States I really worked hard and I had a great coaching staff that really pushed me by waking up at 5.30 AM, working out before school and after school, lifting and stuff. They allowed me to get a lot of playing time and I was able to develop a lot. So high school was really good for me and I think I really flourished in my senior year, we won a lot. Then I chose Illinois State because they recruited me the hardest and I felt like I wanted to go to a mid-major where I could become the man basically. When I got there, I worked really hard and then unfortunately I got a stress fracture in my foot so I missed the whole preseason. I had other injuries so my confidence wasn’t there at all, but it gave me a lot of motivation to prove myself again. After that, I think playing with the Swedish national team helped me be hungry and play hard.

Why did you decide to leave Illinois State and come back to Europe after your freshman year?

After the tournament I had feedback from a couple of agents and they were asking me about the NBA. Maybe it was better for me to leave college and try [to play in] Europe and get accustomed to being a professional. I also think playing Europe would be the best for me as far as learning and understanding the game, so I think it was the best decision to come to Europe.

Now you’re playing in Germany in Frankfurt. What has the transition to professional basketball been like for you?

Well, the speed, the intensity and the physicality are similar to [the NCAA] D1, I’d say it’s probably even more physical here in the BBL but I would say I’ve learned a lot about the tactical play, learning how to read plays, the pick and roll, different reads. The transition has been just about understanding the game more. I’ve also worked on details, on my shot as well. So, I feel like I’m improving a lot.

During your career you’ve gone through different experiences, from playing in high school and college, competing in FIBA tournaments with the Swedish national team and now playing for Frankfurt. How important has it been for you as far as playing different styles of basketball?

The fact of playing different styles helped me improve my knowledge of the game, just understanding the different types of games: the fast, high-paced game in the States and then in Europe it’s more tactical and slowed down, which really helped me read and understand the game.

Something that really impressed me about your game is not only your athleticism and explosiveness but also the aggressiveness and the energy that you bring on the court. Where does this toughness come from?

I would say that just from my background as far as my situation at home in Sweden where I grew up, it allowed me to be really tough. I’ve been through a lot, so every time I’m on the basketball court, which literally got me away from a lot of stuff, I feel like I always have to give it my all. I don’t take any possession off because I put in a lot of work for this game and it’s just hard to chill. I just want to win and I hate losing, so I would say it came from that.

Now you’re playing for the Fraport Skyliners and for Gordon Herbert who is a former NBA assistant coach. How has it been playing for him?

It’s been good playing for him. Obviously, it’s my first year and the season we’ve had here has been up and down so I understand that I’m not going to play a lot, but with the minutes I’ve played and the chances I’ve gotten, I think Gordie has helped me improve my game.

You’re automatically eligible for the NBA draft because you played this season in Germany after college, so what do you want to show the NBA teams during this pre-draft process? What can you bring to an NBA team?

I think I can bring a lot of intensity. I’m a fearless competitor and I hate losing. I want to show that I can also create not only for myself but others as well. I also want to showcase my defense, I feel like my defense is underrated. I think I can come on an NBA team and really be a dog on defense.

What are the aspects of your game that you’re looking to improve in order to get even better?

I want to continue to learn the reads of the game. I want to improve my decision-making and my shot. I think my pull-up needs to get better, it’s been really good in practice situation but I need to apply it more in the game. So basically my shot and my decision-making.

How do you think your game translates into the NBA game?

I think the NBA game fits me really well because there’s a lot of open space where you can operate. The NBA game is really up-and-down, fast-paced, athletic, so you’ve got to be able to create for yourself and your teammates and I think I’m really good at doing that. I think my transition is going to be good because I’m really athletic.

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