Ideal athlete
Basketball just one of many sports for Norcross' Clarke

NORCROSS - When Tiffany Clarke moved from New York before her freshman year of high school, she knew she would be living in Norcross.

But she never imagined her home away from home would be on Spalding Drive.

The Norcross junior is a rare three-sport athlete at the Class AAAAA level, which means she spends most of the school year at Norcross.

She's an all-county performer in volleyball and a state placer in track, but Clarke's future might be on the hardwood with basketball.

"What an absolute athlete that she is. She is a specimen," first-year Norcross coach Angie Hembree said. "I watched her play volleyball and she can jump out of the gym. She's 6-foot, but I mean she plays 6-2. She really does. She can grab the rim and she is a true athlete. I would say she is one of if not the best rebounders in the county. No doubt. She's very good."

Clarke's school year begins with volleyball where she was a second-team all-county selection by the Daily Post. She helped guide the Blue Devils to the Region 7-AAAAA championship and to the second round of the playoffs.

As soon as the volleyball season is over, it's on to basketball. By the time basketball is over it's off to track - a sport Clarke does to just keep her busy during the spring.

But she's pretty good at that, too. She placed fourth at state in the triple jump and seventh in the shot put last year.

So which one does she enjoy the most - volleyball or basketball?

"Volleyball comes more natural to me, it's more fun," Clarke said. "But at the same time basketball takes more skill and competitiveness and I love competing. So it's two totally different things."

Despite playing three sports Clarke still maintains a 4.0 GPA. She uses her little free time by doing her homework.

"Norcross is almost a second home for her," Hembree said.

"She's here all the time. She has her priorities in order, she really does."

Even in the summer time Clarke doesn't take a break. The track season doesn't end until May and then it's on to AAU basketball and then back to volleyball.

"The transition is easy for me because I never get out of shape," Clarke said.

Which is why Clarke has been one of the top basketball players in the county since the start of the season.

She's third in the county in scoring with 17.1 points per game and leads the county in rebounds with 10.7. And just for good measure she averages four blocks.

"She's a force. She's a force to be reckoned with and a lot of her points are coming from put backs," Hembree said. "Her ability to rebound is why she's scoring so many points. She can battle with anybody."

Clarke averaged 10.9 points and 11.1 rebounds last season. Her improved numbers are partly due to her practice partners. Members of the Norcross football team practice against Clarke every day. Playing against bigger, stronger people has helped Clarke improve her aggressiveness.

"We call them 'a few good men,'" Clarke said with a laugh.

"They're more aggressive. At the same time they don't know what we're doing and we don't know what they're doing, basically we have to adjust to everything which is what we have do on the court. It helps us a lot."

Clarke's improvement from her sophomore year to this season was so dramatic that now she's become a college prospect.

"I think she's a Division I player, but at what level Division I a lot of it will be how she improves the rest of this year and the summer," Hembree said. "I think the desire is definitely is there."

Clarke also credits her success to the new atmosphere Hembree has brought to Norcross. Hembree coached Collins Hill to three state championships prior to coaching at the University of Miami (Fla.). Hembree returned to Gwinnett over the summer and from Day 1 has brought a winning feel to the team.

"We believe we can actually win now," Clarke said. "Before last year I think it was just going with the flow, but now Coach Hembree is pushing us and every game we can improve, so now we believe in it.

"We're playing intense and we're playing hard and we know we can beat all of the teams we are playing now."

The Blue Devils were a combined a 23-29 in Clarke's first two years and Norcross hasn't made the playoffs since the 1998-99 season.

"It's been a while, but it's going to change this year," Clarke said.

The Blue Devils are 13-10 overall and 9-7 in Region 7-AAAAA play. Mill Creek is expected to make the playoffs, while as many as five other teams including Norcross are fighting for the three other spots.

With Clarke leading the way this could be Norcross' year to return to the postseason.

"Tiffany has a nose for the ball and wants the ball," Hembree said.

"She just loves to play. She's got her head on straight on and off the floor."

SideBar: The Clarke File

· Who: Tiffany Clarke

· Sport: Basketball

· School: Norcross

· Class: Junior

· Favorite movies: "Crash" and "Finding Nemo"

· Favorite food: Chicken and rice

· Favorite athlete: Candace Parker

· Favorite music artist: Alicia Keys

· Noteworthy:

· Is third in the county in scoring with 17.1 points

· Leads the county in rebounds with 10.7

· Member of AAU basketball team Georgia Metros

· Daily Post second team all-county selection in volleyball

· Fourth at state in triple jump, seventh in shot put last year

· Maintains 4.0 GPA