BELLA VISTA — Rotnei Clarke didn’t finish his college career with the Arkansas basketball program, transferring to Butler after his junior season.
The departure didn’t change his opinion of Arkansas, though.
“I still look at Fayetteville as my home,” Clarke said Friday afternoon. “I had a great time when I played here. It’s an awesome place to live, and I can definitely see myself ending up here when I’m done playing basketball.”
Clarke, who lives in Fayetteville with his wife, the former Patricia Elliott, participated in the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Club’s golf scramble in Bella Vista on Friday. The 25-year-old — who is a few months removed from a successful start to his professional career — revisited his time with the Razorbacks before playing a round of golf with a few family members in the event.
Clarke scored 1,306 points in three seasons to finish 21st on Arkansas’ scoring list. He holds the school’s single-game scoring record with his 51-point performance against Alcorn State in 2009, which also included a record 13 three-pointers.
But after three years of playing at Arkansas under former coach John Pelphrey — which included three years without an NCAA Tournament appearance — Clarke decided to make a change. He asked for and was eventually granted a release from his scholarship by current coach Mike Anderson and transferred to Butler.
“It’s the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Clarke said. “I didn’t want to leave after being here three years, but at some point you’ve got to take a step back and look and I just felt it was right in my heart.
“I really focused on trying to further my career and have a chance to play in the [NCAA] Tournament.”
It worked out for Clarke, who underwent surgeries on both ankles after leaving Arkansas. He redshirted in 2011-12, but was a key member of former Butler coach Brad Stevens’ team during the 2012-13 season.
Clarke led Butler in scoring (16.9 points) and helped the Bulldogs get back into the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 20.5 points in the postseason, but his college career ended with Butler’s second-round loss to Marquette.
“Obviously, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but to be able to experience the NCAA Tournament was something very special,” Clarke said. “It’s what I’d been working toward my entire life.”
Clarke now is trying to work his way through the professional ranks.
He was named most valuable player of the Australian Basketball League earlier this year after averaging 21.1 points a game for the Wollongong Hawks. Clarke said he stepped into a good situation, getting an opportunity to play a lot of minutes.
It has led to a promotion in overseas basketball. Clarke has signed a 10-month contract to play his second pro season in Belgium for Okapi Aalstar.
“Obviously, I want to be able to play here in the States,” Clarke said. “That’s my ultimate goal. But it’s not bad just getting married and being able to travel the world and go to Europe. It’s a good opportunity and hopefully I can keep moving up.”
Clarke said he’ll leave for Belgium on Aug. 15 and the team’s season begins in September. While away, Clarke will continue to keep up with the Razorbacks.
His career as an Arkansas player may have ended when he decided to transfer to Butler to play his final season. But Clarke said he’s still a “huge fan.”
“There are no bad feelings on my part,” Clarke said about his departure. “I’ve always been an encourager and a supporter for Arkansas and their sports. I know Coach Anderson has his team going in the right direction. It’s obvious. They’ve got the excitement back and they’re really playing well. I feel like they could really take off this next year. They’ve got a got a lot of good talent in there and it’s exciting to see.”