The normally low-key Shaq Cleare simply won’t stop. He’s yammered on and on about Texas’ trip to the Bahamas this week to play three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
He can’t wait to show the Longhorns around Nassau and Paradise Island, just a quick plane hop from his hometown Andros.
“Yeah, we can’t get him to stop talking about it, really,” senior forward Connor Lammert said. “It’s exciting for him.”
Deep down somewhere in that 6-8, 285-pound frame, Cleare probably wants to show his family and friends that leaving the Bahamas as a 15-year-old was still a smart decision.
Texas (1-1) faces long-time rival Texas A&M (4-0) in the first game on Wednesday in a hotel ballroom converted to hold 3,500 basketball fans. A&M forward Tavario Miller is another island native going home.
“I told my teammates that my family is crazy,” Cleare said. “So if you hear them making noise, don’t be scared. They’ve got your back. It’s going to be an awesome atmosphere.”
This may sound odd to Texans, but tournament organizers aren’t pushing the Texas-A&M rivalry to the locals. The Nassau Guardian newspaper reported that organizers “want to encourage Bahamians to come out and support these two local players and their teams.”
Cleare came to the United States as a teenager and landed in Houston at The Village School, a place known for its diverse international population. It also was the home of future Texas guard Isaiah Taylor.
Cleare’s father, Brian, played college basketball, and with his type of frame, it wasn’t long before Shaq found success, too. Cleare averaged 26.5 points and 10 rebounds per game and quickly became the nation’s 30th-best prospect, according to ESPN.
In a detailed profile in The Washington Post, Cleare was in tears the day he learned longtime Maryland coach Gary Williams was retiring. That’s where he wanted to play college basketball.
As it turned out, Maryland hired then-A&M coach Mark Turgeon, who had been recruiting Cleare for the Aggies. Turgeon was the first coach who sent Cleare a hand-written note during the recruiting process. Those two formed a bond, so Cleare chose Maryland anyway.
Cleare was hailed as the centerpiece to Turgeon’s first recruiting class, yet it just never clicked there. He averaged only 12 minutes as a freshman, with just 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Cleare’s sophomore season wasn’t much better, as he put up similar numbers.
Frustrated and looking for a fresh start, he decided to transfer. He chose Texas to play alongside Taylor, as the two have a big brother-little brother type of relationship. Cleare sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules and is part of a three-man rotation at center under first-year coach Shaka Smart.
Before leaving Maryland, Cleare told the Washington Post, “I feel like I’m disappointing a lot of fans. That’s all on me. I’m going to take the blame. I’m mature enough to shoulder that burden.”
In between seasons, the Terps scheduled an exhibition trip to the Bahamas specifically to take Cleare back home. Maryland was scheduled to play a group of Bahamian all-stars. However, Cleare wound up being unable to play because of lower back problems.
That’s another reason why Cleare wants to play so well this week. He doesn’t care about the final stats, only that Texas comes away a winner.
“We’re not going to sightsee or anything,” Cleare said. “We’ll be happy to take a little dip in the waters. Just saying, five or 10 minutes. But other than that, it’s all business. We’re going down there to compete.”