Following the footsteps of greatness Print
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Friday, 27 February 2009 13:26
NCAAB Headline News


 MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) -Denis Clemente is driven by the legacy of a man he never met.
Passionate, competitive, motivated to become the best at whatever he does - so much of what defines Kansas State's point guard comes from his connection to a second cousin who died 24 years before he was born: Puerto Rican baseball great Roberto Clemente.
``He's always with me,'' said Clemente, who wears No. 21 in Roberto's honor. ``I'm very proud of the relationship when people ask me about it.''
Roberto Clemente is one of the most revered figures in Puerto Rico's history, as much for his humanitarian work as his athletic achievements. A Hall of Famer who played 18 seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente was killed in a plane crash in 1972 while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Denis Clemente only knows his father's cousin through the stories told by friends, family, even strangers. A great baseball player, a better person, he was told.
Clemente listened intently, soaked it all in, used the story of his famous relative as a guiding force in his own life.
emente to move from his hometown of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, to Miami as a 16-year-old to pursue his dream of playing college basketball. It helped him mature after being dismissed from the team by Miami coach Frank Haith and become one of the best point guards in the Big 12 Conference at Kansas State.
His ties to Roberto still push Clemente, driving him to demand the best out of himself, even opponents, fueling a passion on the basketball court that never wavers.
``He is one tough customer,'' Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. ``He doesn't back down from anybody. He's a fighter, he's a winner, he plays with tremendous passion and that's what I'm about. I love guys who play with passion and he definitely has it.''
Maybe a little too much at times.
As a sophomore at Miami, Clemente was suspended for the 2007 season opener after violating team policy and was later was suspended for the remainder of the season for breaking unspecified team rules.
Clemente also was suspended for a game last week for letting his emotions get the best of him against rival Kansas on Feb. 14, when he threw an elbow at one player and popped another in the back of the head in the closing seconds.
ress the team.
``I leave my heart on the floor. I'm going to do the best that I can do,'' Clemente said. ``I felt like I was the best player on the court, but it doesn't matter if you're the best player on the court if you lose or lose your cool.''
Though blessed with similar speed and quickness, Clemente chose not to follow Roberto's path athletically, preferring the movement of basketball over the idle moments in baseball.
A whirling dervish of speed who can score in bunches, Clemente once outscored Tyler Hansbrough and Kevin Durant at an AAU tournament and was called the fastest player in college basketball by TV analyst Billy Packer while at Miami.
After adjusting to a new system and a year of watching from the bench, Clemente has become the catalyst for a Kansas State team trying to reach the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1989-90.
The junior leads the Wildcats with 15.3 points per game, is second with 83 assists and set a Big 12 record with 44 points at Texas on Jan. 31.
``He's capable and he likes the big moments,'' Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. ``He's playing awfully well.''
It's no accident.
nts can no longer back off, hitting 40 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
Clemente also has become a much better defender by changing his offense-first mentality and has become an extension of Martin on the floor, often calling out plays before the coach knows what he wants to do. He's even getting better at English, working hard at his second language after primarily speaking Spanish in Miami.
``Anything he does, he does it with a chip on his shoulder,'' Martin said. ``He wants to be the best at everything.''
In a sense, he can't approach basketball - or life - any other way.
Clemente knows his heritage, the weight of carrying a last name synonymous with grace, dignity and passion. To back down might tarnish the legacy of someone who meant so much to so many.
``I know where I came from,'' Clemente said. ``I know I have to do my best because of him.''
 

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