When it comes to Illawarra Hawks players, few are more popular than three-point shooting maestro Rotnei Clarke.
The diminutive shooting guard has emerged as a fan favourite during his time with the club, with children up and down the coast imitating Clarke on their local court.
Now, his status as a fan favourite is official after he was voted Illawarra Mercury People’s Choice Sportsperson of the Year by the Mercury’s readers.
The accolade comes on the back of a stellar 2017 that saw Clarke lead the Hawks to the NBL grand final and be named NBL Sixth Man of the Year and Hawks MVP.
“It’s a pretty cool honour,” Clarke said. “I think it’s even cooler that people chose me, so that’s obviously an honour. This place means a lot to me, this organisation means a lot to me and my family. I appreciate everyone who voted for me. We appreciate the people who show up for our games and all our supporters, the support for my family and I, it’s just an absolute honour.”
At just six feet tall, Clarke has been doubted throughout his career, however the American feels this award proves that if you work hard enough, success will come.
“Height doesn’t really matter, its about the heart on the inside. Really for me it was my work ethic and my consistency, If you work hard, when I say work hard, I mean really work hard, a lot of kids don’t really understand what hard work really means, but you put in the effort, the hard work’s going to pay off, whether you’re six foot or six foot nine.
“I think that’s a huge message to send to kids, anything’s possible, no matter what shape or size you come in.”
For a team with a budget as small as the Hawks, a grand final defeat could easily be seen as a moral victory. However, for Clarke, and his Hawks teammates, the series sweep lit a burning desire for the team to go one step further this season.
“The defeat showed us it’s possible,” Clarke said. “To play a team like Perth and to have a low budget team like us, a lot of people didn’t expect us to be there. It says a lot about our coaches and a lot about our players and the character in the community.
“It definitely sparked a fuel. We’ve been there, we’ve seen someone win it on the same court we lost on, we watched them walk on stage and receive their medals and rings and everything that came with it. It gets you going and makes you want to take that next step.”
The 28-year-old has made a superb start to the new season, however the Hawks have struggled at times and currently sit in sixth place. After two straight victories, Clarke is confident they will make a push for the finals.
“We’ve had an up and down year so far. Now we’re back in the swing of things, we got a good win against Perth and hopefully that will help us gain momentum going into the second half of the season. We were down and counted out last year too, we made a run and got into the top four and made it to the grand final, so anything’s possible.”