Clemmons has 'great shot' at Big Ten defensive goal

Chad Leistikow

Anthony Clemmons has never been a big numbers guy, but he's building a strong resume on reputation alone to achieve his only preseason individual goal: Make the Big Ten Conference’s all-defensive team.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Iowa senior famously shut down explosive Michigan State guard Bryn Forbes, his high school teammate, twice earlier this season — something immortalized on a half-hour TV special recently on the Big Ten Network.

Forbes was held to 1-for-10 shooting and five points (2.5 average) going against Clemmons, a key factor in the Hawkeyes’ season sweep of the Spartans. In Forbes’ last nine games not playing against Clemmons, he’s averaging 17.3 points a night.

The Big Ten’s 14 coaches will vote on the five-player all-defensive team in about a month.

“I think he’s got a great shot at it,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Friday. “He’s really locked in defensively. He’s done a terrific job on a lot of really good players. I think everybody remembers the job he did on Forbes, but it’s not just that. Because we’ll put him on the point, we’ll put him on the '2,' we’ll put him on the 3. He’ll guard a 6-6 guy, he’ll guard a 5-10 guy. The value of that skill on your team is so incredible.”

Clemmons’ all-defense goal reinforces that team-first mentality that McCaffery saw from Gabe Olaseni a year ago, when he stated he wanted to be the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year — and was.

Where does that selfless attitude come from? It starts at home, and with his successful team at Sexton High School in Lansing, Mich., where he also played with Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine (and was coached by Carlton Valentine, Denzel’s father). Clemmons embraced his role at Sexton, which the Lansing State Journal recently called mid-Michigan’s greatest high school team ever.

“Great family, great high school coach, great AAU program, always played on teams that won,” McCaffery said. “So what’s changed when he got here? Nothing.”

Clemmons will need to continue his reputation as a defensive stopper in Iowa’s final eight Big Ten games. Spots will be tough to come by with Purdue returning two defensive stalwarts from last year’s all-defensive team in A.J. Hammons and Rapheal Davis.

And then there’s his teammates. Clemmons is averaging just over one steal a game, fewer than Hawkeye guards Mike Gesell and Peter Jok. Center Adam Woodbury has been a physical defensive force inside (8.7 rebounds a game in Big Ten play) and Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff leads the conference in blocked shots (3.0 per game).

“Any one of those guys could be on that team,” McCaffery said.

Clemmons will likely draw 6-3 guard Kendrick Nunn in No. 7 Iowa’s game Sunday at Illinois (noon, BTN). Nunn is averaging 17.3 points, including 3.0 made 3-pointers a game.

“He’s explosive,” McCaffery said. “Guys that are really quick off the floor with a quick burst that can get to the rim but also make 3s, those are tough guys to cover.”

No doubt Clemmons is geared up for the challenge.