CRUSADER FORUM — During Wednesday’s National Signing Day ceremony at Archbishop Riordan High school, cousins Je’Lani Clark and Bryce Monroe, along with their typically-stoic coach Joey Curtin were moved to tears.
Curtin got choked up before he could even deliver a statement about the pair. Both players found themselves pausing during their brief impromptu speeches to wipe their eyes.
Arguably two of the most dynamic playmakers in the City, Clark — a slashing wing — and Monroe — a speedy, shifty point guard — signed with Nevada and Sam Houston State, respectively. For one more season, though, they’ll play for Curtin and for Riordan, a place both of them discovered a sense of home.
“It’s special,” Curtin said. “To have two cousins on the same team sign Division I scholarships heading into their senior year isn’t something that happens a lot.”
For Clark, Riordan had been home ever since he started as a freshman in 2016. Curtin noticed the Oakland native at a camp and immediately notified the school of his talent, and he was brought in despite the late arrival to the admissions process.
“At that point, I was thinking about (Bishop) O’Dowd,” said Clark, an Oakland native. “I didn’t even know what San Francisco was. I just knew Bryce lived here. I went to open house and I saw how everybody played a part. Most of the teachers went here and people came back to coach.”
The first part of Clark’s freshman season was spent making an arduous commute from Vallejo each day, as his family had temporarily moved there to tend to his ailing grandmother. Between buses and BART, he spent over four hours each day in transit.
“It started to get tough. I’m energetic, and I was coming home tired. It was a different ‘Lani,” he told the audience at the ceremony. “My mom looked into the boarding program and saw it could help me with my grades and keep me focused. It was hard, doing that and being a freshman on varsity, but it started flowing. I thought, ‘I could really see myself being here. I like this place.’”
Just as Clark had realized something was amiss when he had to spend hours each day getting to and from school, he realized towards the end of his sophomore year that things weren’t right for his cousin at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
“I saw it in his game; he wasn’t really comfortable,” Clark said. “That’s all we talked about since we were little, going to high school together. I said, ‘Stop playing with me. Are you going to come to my school or what?’”
Monroe transferred to Riordan, and the two, despite often fighting like brothers, have built a remarkable connection both on and off the court. It was present as they played together on numerous AAU teams, and it showed up last season as they led the Crusaders to their best league record since the 2006-07 campaign.
“I got here at the start of my junior year and I was going through a lot,” Monroe said. “I wasn’t happy. I could see it in my play at the end of the summer, and I knew going back to Sacred Heart wasn’t good for me. I wasn’t being me, I was going through a lot and I needed to go somewhere where I felt at home. I found that feeling with Riordan a week before my junior year. That played a lot into my decision to pick Sam Houston, because it was home.”
Bearkats coach Jason Hooten and his assistants made Monroe a priority from day one, swaying him away from programs that may have appeared more enticing.
“I went to a lot of bigger places, a lot of bigger-name schools, and I didn’t get that feeling, ” Monroe said. “I feel I play my best basketball when I’m with people I can trust. They really showed they wanted me from the moment I got there. They had my face up on video screens and even the other recruits were talking about how much they wanted me to play there.”
Even as programs like Washington State, led by former University of San Francisco coach Kyle Smith, made late pleas to get Monroe to flip his commitment, he stuck with his plan to head to Texas.
“We’re a winning program, we’ve won 20-plus games the past 10 years,” Monroe explained. “We’re a top-25 mid-major program and play in the CIT, NIT or NCAA Tournament almost every year.”
For now, though, the pair will focus on trying to lead the Crusaders to their first West Catholic Athletic League title since 2007 and their first Central Coast Section Open Division title in program history. Riordan has reached the semifinals twice, including last year, ultimately losing to Bellarmine in overtime.