Greenwich Time (Sunday)

Clarett shares unique bond with Huskies

- By David Borges david.borges @hearstmedi­ @DaveBorges

CINCINNATI — Maurice Clarett, who led Ohio State to a national championsh­ip as a freshman running back 20 years ago, is still a pretty big deal in Ohio.

But Clarett is also a pretty big deal in Storrs, Connecticu­t. And he’s a really big UConn men’s basketball fan.

So there was Clarett on Saturday, bedecked in UConn gear and sitting behind the Huskies’ bench after making the two-hour drive from his home in Columbus to the Cintas Center for UConn’s Top 25 showdown with Xavier. Prior to the game, he exchanged greetings and hugs with UConn assistant coaches Tom Moore, Mamadou Diarra and several other staff members.

“I’m a fan of young kids in general, I don’t care where you come from,” Clarett said, before nodding towards the UConn bench, “but my allegiance is to those guys. Those are my guys.”

Clarett, whose career derailed after his freshman season at Ohio State and wound up spending 3 1/2 years in prison for armed robbery and other charges, has traveled around the country speaking to college teams and other organizati­ons. About four years ago, Clarett was approached by UConn associate head coach Kimani Young to come speak to the Huskies.

“Just about mentality towards achievemen­t, perseverin­g, things going wrong,” Clarett said. “I think some of what I represent, they wanted me to be connected to the players, and for the past four years, we’ve been able to do that.”

Indeed, while Clarett continues to speak to other schools (including Xavier), he has formed a special bond with UConn. Clarett was on the UConn campus as recently as last month.

“I talk to the players, help with their mentality, help them to understand the scenario they’re in,” he said, “talk about teamwork, help them identify leadership qualities and encouragin­g them through the collegiate sporting process.”

Many of UConn’s players weren’t even born yet when Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns as an Ohio State freshman in 2002. But they are familiar with his story and respond well to a man who has been through so much.

“I don’t know if people understand the mechanics of intercolle­giate athletics,” Clarett said. “You have a situation where a lot of these kids have been bombarded with the same people, same coaches, same supporting staff, but somebody who’s not a part of it — I don’t even come from a basketball world — can bring a fresh perspectiv­e. Somebody who doesn’t have bias, somebody who’s going to encourage them.”

Clarett will continue to spread his message of positivity to student-athletes and others around the country.

“It wouldn’t matter if I was in front of people at Texas A&M,” he noted, “I would encourage kids, no matter where they were at in the process, to try to help them with whatever level they’re at mentally, to try to improve upon it.”

“With that being said,” Clarett added, then smiled and pointed to the UConn bench, where his deepest allegiance­s lie.

 ?? David Borges / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Maurice Clarett embraces UConn men’s basketball assistant coach Tom Moore prior to Saturday’s game at Xavier.
David Borges / Hearst Connecticu­t Media Maurice Clarett embraces UConn men’s basketball assistant coach Tom Moore prior to Saturday’s game at Xavier.

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