Numbers don’t lie for Belmont’s senior guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson.
With statistics like 2,246 career points, 57 career wins, two conference championships and two NCAA appearances, how can they?
“They are the two most talented guys that we have ever had together,” said men’s basketball coach Rick Byrd, who has coached the Belmont program for 27 years. “Both are very competitive and their confidence rubs off on the rest of the team. They believe we’re going to win the game when we take the floor.”
It was this drive and skill-level that struck Byrd the moment the duo stepped onto the court as freshmen.
“I can remember that very first fall when they were freshmen, watching them play together, and thinking how lucky I was to be able to coach those guys for four years,” he said.
Since Byrd started coaching them four years ago, that luck hasn’t exactly run out.
Now competing in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Bruins, who are currently undefeated in conference play, have continued to depend on the leadership and motivation of the backcourt duo.
Both Johnson and Clark, who have also been roommates since their freshman years, see that drive as one of the ways they’ve both developed since they started at Belmont.
“What we’ve learned together is how to push each other on the court and off,” Johnson said. “These last four years we’ve been through a lot. We’ve grown together, seen this program grow together.”
This season, Clark is on pace to pass Wes Burtner as the leading scorer in program history during the Bruins’ NCAA era. Johnson, this season, earned the records for most steals during the NCAA era and is one assist away from earning the same record for the category.
During his career, Clark’s strength has stemmed from his ability to work and shoot well around the perimeter. The Memphis native leads the team in scoring this season with 363 points and currently ranks 24th in the nation, averaging 19.1 points per game.
Johnson relies more on his ability to drive to the basket and draw away defenders to create room.
“We try to feed off each other,” Clark said. “Kerron’s a great driver and can get to the basket, draws help. When he does that, it’s easy for me to get shots off out on the perimeter and vice versa.”
Initially, Clark said he was considered a more laidback shooting guard, while Johnson had the energy and fire at point guard. Eventually, Johnson’s enthusiasm rubbed off on Clark.
“He’s brought that out of me, to have a lot of energy and excitement while I’m on the court and to be ready to play all the time,” Clark said.
Byrd attributes the duo’s dynamic to a strong friendship paired with initiative.
“They quickly became friends, they were in the same incoming class. They have similar backgrounds in terms of strong family support,” Byrd said. “They take the academic side of things seriously and have great character.”
The duo’s work ethic and enthusiasm for the game has also played a key role in the team’s success.
“Both have a lot of pride, a good kind of pride, in their own performance game in and game out. They work at it and don’t rely on just practice,” he said. “They work at it individually and enjoy playing together. It’s just been a great dynamic over the past four years.”
Fellow senior guard Adam Barnes said that Johnson, Clark and rest of the backcourt have become more than teammates, which adds to the chemistry and support on the court.
“They just genuinely look out for each other. It’s just that type of brotherhood that makes it so fun to play with them. Everything about each other is family,” Barnes said. “Just to see those guys doing well means a lot to me personally.”
Underclassmen, like freshman guard Craig Bradshaw, have grown just by playing with the duo.
“When you play with great players like Kerron and Ian every day, it makes you better as a player. They’re two of the best guards and probably one of the best backcourts in the country,” said Bradshaw. “They try to be mentors to all of us and help us out whenever we need it.”
The most important thing the duo has tried to instill in their younger teammates is the pride of winning and always looking forward.
“You have to pass on your knowledge to these younger guys. You got to push them and preparing them for what you’re going to see next year,” Johnson said.
“We just make sure the guys know that you need to get better, always need to work hard to have the determination to keep this program going upward,” Clark said.