The Boston-based Expressions Elite basketball program had their bags packed, ready to pile into buses and make the 15-hour trek from Massachusetts to Indiana for the MADE Hoops Midwest Mania event. 60 players, coaches and team personnel were scheduled to leave the city in an hour and a half, mentally preparing themselves for a long drive and a busy weekend of high-level competition. And then the call came through. That call.
Local standout and former Expressions Elite superstar Terrence Clarke had died at 19 years of age, a moment that flipped the basketball world upside down. A car accident in Los Angeles, he had just left a workout with former Kentucky teammate and best friend BJ Boston. The two had signed with Klutch Sports, the nation’s most famous agency under Rich Paul, just a day before.
Clarke, a local Boston basketball icon with NBA dreams, was gone.
“I just can’t believe this is happening. We get a phone call that he got into a car accident, they said he didn’t make it,” Expressions Elite coach and founder Todd Quarles told KSR on Saturday. “We had 60 people in the parking lot, all you saw was the tears. It was so emotional because Terrence touched so many people in our program and beyond the program.
“… He was just a charismatic guy, destined for his stardom. To hear that that happened, our hearts dropped. It was a very emotional bus ride.”
Driving 15 hours from Boston to the outskirts of Indianapolis, a program that took Clarke in as a young 7th grader and a group of kids that idolized the Kentucky freshman and saw him as a mentor and friend were forced to grieve. 60 individuals, all heartbroken together over the loss of one of their own.
“I just can’t believe it happened. We’re going to miss him,” Quarles said. “He was our hero. The city of Boston’s hero. We expected great things to happen to him. Unfortunately, this was a tragic accident that happened. We’re so up and down and emotional. We’re feeling for him, his family, but especially his mother.”
Nobody would have questioned the program for pulling out of an event on short notice after dealing with a tragedy of this magnitude. Frankly, it may have been the expectation. But instead of staying home in Boston, Quarles and the Expressions Elite program decided to make that long 15-hour drive and play. And not only would they play, they would do so in Clarke’s honor.
Leading up to the team’s 9:15 a.m. ET tipoff, the team honored Clarke with a moment of silence and held up the former Wildcat’s number, 5, in remembrance of their former player, teammate and friend. The program also added Clarke to the roster as an honorary player for the weekend. They would play back-to-back games in the morning, both times with their local hero in mind.
Terrence Clarke’s AAU program @ExpressionsBall is honoring the former Wildcat before every game at @madehoops #MidwestMania this weekend. Number 5 up during a moment of silence, listed as an honorary player on the roster.
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) April 24, 2021
“He deserved it. Terrence was one of a kind, just a special person and a special player. That was our way of giving back to him while he’s looking down upon us,” Quarles said. “He’s never, ever going to be forgotten. We want to make sure his spirit lives on, it’s a testament to who he is and what he meant to our program.”
Clarke didn’t just come around when the cameras were on or out of convenience, the Kentucky freshman served as a mentor for those inside the Expressions Elite program when nobody was watching. He was a shoulder to lean on when the going got tough, a teacher when the players needed coaching or guidance, and a role model when the kids needed inspiration. Clarke was an icon.
“A lot of the players leaned on him. He was the iconic figure in our program. Terrence walked on water,” Quarles told KSR. “When he spoke, all these kids were like sponges. They all wanted to hear what he had to say. I could give that same message ten times, he could say it one time. He talked about how hard it was in college, the urgency, the intensity, the effort has to be there every single day, the things you have to do outside the court people don’t see to prepare yourself for that next level. I could tell these guys that, but when he says it, it’s coming from Kentucky.
“You should see their eyes, their ears. They’re all eyes and all ears, just soaking everything up. … He always had time for the young kids.”
Off the court, Clarke was flashy, oozing confidence and swagger. He was a celebrity before he was legally allowed to drive. Local kids grew up wanting to be Terrence Clarke when the talented guard was still a kid himself. Those close to him knew from a young age he was destined for greatness, that it factor was there from the start.
“Terrence was very, very smart. I think some people looked at him just as a basketball player, but he did so many things and was so gifted, it wasn’t just on the side of basketball,” Quarles said. “(He’s) like the pied piper When we’d go to the Nike camps, NBA camps, things like that, he had everyone’s attention. That’s because of his charismatic personality, his big smile. He had a style about him. You know how Michael Jordan had a style? Terrence had a style and a swag about him. When he walked into a gym, all eyes were on him.”
The special part about Clarke is that even when the going got tough, he never flinched. Through adversity, he always shared that contagious smile, constantly lighting up a room when darkness crept in. Quarles noticed it from a young age, and he carried that with him through high school and at the college level. He certainly dealt with his fair share of adversity in his lone season at Kentucky, both on and off the floor.
“Terrence Clarke has always faced adversity head on. I don’t think people understand, at 15 years old, the type of followers he had and the demands on him. Every day he had to come in and play well because all eyes were on him,” Quarles told KSR. “The scouts, everyone was trying to pick holes in his game, who he was or his tendencies, so every time he had to bring it and play his best.
“There was always someone finding a way to criticize him, but one thing Terrence did, he always had that big smile. He always came to play. He met adversity head on. To be at that age, 14, 15 years old, to come in the gym and everyone wants his autograph and this and that, it’s hard to live a normal life. … Terrence always handled it with a kind smile that brightened up the room. He was just a fun-loving person. He loved to have fun, but he was more than just a basketball player. He was a celebrity.”
Tragedy is never easy, but when a player makes that kind of impact on a program and his city as a whole, it brings it to an entirely new level. From top to bottom, all 60 individuals within the Expressions Elite program are hurting. They lost one of their own.
“The kids are an emotional wreck, just like I have been. That long bus ride, they’re coming in the gym yesterday just to warm up and loosen up,” Quarles said. “When you see these kids, you sit down and talk about it, try to explain, ‘Don’t hold it inside. We have a lot of coaches here, each staff has four coaches, come in and talk to us. I’m available our staff is available, come talk to us. Get these emotions out.’ Everyone grieves in their own way at their own time, let it out.
“He was that important to the kids in our program, he was a special individual.”