The Longhorns’ trip to the Bahamas this week will be just another trip to a foreign country to play basketball for most.
But for junior forward Shaquille Cleare, the Battle 4 Atlantis offers a chance for him to impress family and childhood friends.
“It’s going to be a pretty cool atmosphere,” Cleare said.
Cleare grew up in Nassau — a short drive over a ship channel from the tournament’s location in Paradise Island — and moved to Houston to play high school basketball at The Village School. He averaged 26.5 points and 10 blocks in his senior season while playing alongside Texas junior guard Isaiah Taylor.
Cleare committed to Maryland but found playing time difficult to come by. He averaged just 3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game in 13 minutes during his sophomore season.
Eventually, Cleare decided to transfer back to Texas, closer to some of his family in Houston.
“I blame no one at Maryland,” Cleare said. “I just wanted to come to Texas.”
Cleare sat out last season, per NCAA transfer rules. Now, finding his spot on the floor is proving to be difficult.
In the first two games of the season, Cleare’s numbers haven’t impressed. He’s averaging two points a game, though he grabbed six rebounds in the season opener against Washington.
Cleare is still shaking off rust after sitting out a full season. The Washington game was his first time playing with the team in a game-like environment.
Head coach Shaka Smart said the most important key to Cleare’s growth is time on the court.
“He went a long, long time without playing in a game,” Smart said. “Now he’s on the court, and he’s done some good things. He’s just got to keep getting better at playing with energy and motor.”
Returning to the Bahamas and playing three games in three days might be just the boost Cleare needs. This won’t be his first time traveling to his home country in a competitive environment — Maryland played an exhibition tour in the country in 2013 — but it will be his first time getting extensive playing time.
When he does step onto the court, Cleare expects noise to erupt in the Imperial Arena.
“I don’t know how many tickets I’m going to get,” Cleare said. “But the people who don’t get tickets — they’ll find a way into that arena.”
Cleare said he’s not planning on showing his teammates around the country, but senior forward Connor Lammert said Cleare is excited to be home.
“That’s all he’s been talking about,” Lammert said. “He can’t wait to show us his home country.”
Cleare says personal tours aren’t his focus.
“It’s not a vacation trip,” Cleare said. “It’s a business trip.”