Tom Penders

As he strolls into class in the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center, he looks like any other student looking to get in a little last-minute studying before the day’s exam. But a few fellow students still recognize the 6-foot-5-inch man.

“Hey Kris, I watched you play,” someone will call out.

Kris Clack started for the Longhorns basketball team from 1996 to 1999, finishing his career seventh overall in scoring and fourth overall in rebounding in Texas history. He was named to the All-Big 12 second team his junior and senior years. After pursuing a professional career overseas and in the U.S., Clack is back at UT to finish his degree.

“Kris was a starter and our most consistent player from the day he walked into the door,” said former Texas head coach Tom Penders, who coached the Longhorns from 1988 to 1998.
The Boston Celtics took him with the 55th overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft. But after failing to land a roster spot, he decided to take his game to Italy.

“Real life set in, and I had to make money,” Clack said.

While Clack was a solid player in Italy, averaging 14.3 points a game over six seasons, he said his first year there was a bit of a culture shock.

“When I first got there it was hard to adjust to the language and culture,” Clack said. “It was the simple things that were the hardest, like going to the grocery store and not being able to buy cereal.”

The simple things didn’t include the crazy fans who would attend European games and were especially vulgar toward Americans, he said.

“The management was nervous of fans,” Clack said. “People would throw water on me and spit on me.”

Other Americans Clack played with had hot pennies thrown at them and fans sometimes shot off flares inside the arena in celebration.

The arenas in Europe, which often lacked temperature control, would feel scorching in the summer and freezing in the winter. And after halftime, players returned to a smoky gym.

“Everyone would light a cigarette at half, so the court would have a cloud of smoke when we came back for the second half,” Clack said.

Cultural differences aside, he still considers the skill level in Europe very high because the kids are placed in a skill academy at a young age and are fundamentally sound by the time they reach the pros.

“The coaches were hard on the players when they did something wrong,” Clack said. “Sometimes they’d get kicked in the shin [after making mistakes].”

He left Europe in 2006 to play for the Austin Toros in the newly formed NBA Development league.

“The overseas experience burned me out, and I knew eventually I’d be going back to school and playing in Austin gave me the opportunity to,” Clack said.

He played for the Toros for a year and then moved on to the New Mexico Thunderbirds the next year before retiring a few months later.

“I just didn’t like the coach; first time in my career I ever had a problem with one,” he said. “I said, ‘Screw it. I’m going home to my daughter and my family.’”

Clack is back at Texas now to get his undergraduate degree and teaching certificate with his eyes turned toward coaching. He aims to become a high school coach after finishing up his hours at UT, and is working as a coach with the Austin Wildcats, a development program for kids from fourth to 12th grade, and at St. Gabriel’s Catholic School, where he coaches seventh- and eighth-grade girls.

“Kris is a good coach because he is so patient with the girls,” said Darrel Smith, president of the Austin Wildcats.

Clack was a fundamentally sound player in his career and looks to emphasize the fundamentals in teaching a younger generation.

“I like the little kids that can’t dribble and shoot with two hands, I get a better feeling when I develop young talent,” he said.

While he’s focused on developing younger players, Clack still wishes he received more credit for what he did for the Texas program.

The conversation on Texas basketball often starts with Chris Mihm, a former Texas center and teammate who spent nine seasons in the NBA.

Clack, however, was the first McDonald’s All-American to commit to Texas. He averaged 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game over four seasons.

“Not to say we didn’t have great players, but as soon as we went to the Big 12, the level of recruits went from second tier to the best in the country,” Penders said. “Kris was the one who started that trend.”