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Terrence Clarke’s mission was to boost Boston basketball. In his death, his peers will carry on

Friends and community members gathered outside the former Smith Leadership Academy for a ceremony in celebration of the life of Terrence Clarke.
Friends and community members gathered outside the former Smith Leadership Academy for a ceremony in celebration of the life of Terrence Clarke.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Long before either made reality of their Division 1 hoop dreams, Terrence Clarke and Anthony Morales were two kids at a 3-on-3 tournament in East Boston trying to figure out who the competition was.

Morales was 8. Clarke was 7. They played once early in the tournament, and again in the championship. The 3-on-3 basically became a 1-on-1.

“After the game, we’re both like, ‘You’re good,’ ” said Morales, who attended a candlelight vigil for Clarke in Dorchester Friday. “We just had to have respect for each other. Any time me or Terrence saw each other, we just knew how it was like. We knew it was all love.”

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Clarke’s star took off as they got older. He went to a college basketball powerhouse, Kentucky. Morales came into his own as a ballplayer; he stayed close to home at Boston University, but they were always in touch.

The last time they were in contact was a couple weeks ago. Morales posted a workout video to Snapchat. Clarke slid in.

“Yo! Keep going! We gon’ make noise for Boston.’ ”

Clarke was on the brink of his life-changing moment. He had declared for the NBA Draft.

“If you think about it, all the status he had, he could have been Hollywood,” Morales said. “But if you actually get to know him, he’s far from it.”

Morales was walking through Walmart with his mom Thursday night when he thought to check his phone. A friend called and immediately asked him,” Have you heard the news about Terrence?”

“It never crossed my mind that it could be something bad,” Morales said. “I was thinking he signed with an agency, or something of that nature, like some positive.”

His friend told him to go to Clarke’s last Instagram post and scroll to the bottom. When Morales did, he dropped his phone in the middle of the aisle. Word spread that night that Clarke had died in a car crash in Los Angeles.

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“I was just praying that it wasn’t true,” Morales said.

According to police reports, Clarke was traveling at a high speed in the San Fernando Valley when he crashed into a turning car, and then into a traffic signal. He was taken to a hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. He was 19.

“It’s just rough seeing somebody who was so young and has so much more to give, to just be taken away that quick,” Morales said. “I’m not going to lie, this moment never even crossed my mind where I thought that something like this would happen. He was so close to achieving his dreams.

“But he always told me, he was like, ‘My dream school’s Kentucky.’ He made that happen. And then his next one was, ‘I’m going to get drafted first round.’ Personally, I think he was going to make that happen. He followed a plan. Obviously, something came out of left field. God had other plans. He wanted him on his squad upstairs.”

Losing such a bright star at such a young age rocked the Boston basketball community at every level. Celtics coach Brad Stevens couldn’t get through his postgame press conference after finding out about Clarke’s death. Jaylen Brown posted to Twitter and Instagram urging the NBA to call Clarke’s name at the draft in memoriam.

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Clarke this week had signed to Klutch Sports Group, the agency run by Rich Paul, a close friend of LeBron James. James tweeted “REST IN PARADISE NEPHEW!!!”

Clarke had an infectious presence and an insatiable passion for the game, but he also had a drive to reach the highest levels of basketball for Boston. The city’s basketball community embraced him for it but had to reconcile with his life being cut short before he had the chance to do it.

“Everybody in Boston, we all knew, like, ‘Yo, T’s nice,” Morales said. “We all knew T’s got a shot. T’s it. Growing up in Boston, you see a lot of hate, you see a lot of people being envious and stuff like that. I don’t know what it was, but with Terrence everybody just wanted him to win and his personality, his love for the community, for the youth, he’s just a special person.”

Clarke spent his freshman year at Rivers School in Weston before moving on to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. Both schools mourned.

“To the world, Terrence was a star on the basketball court and an icon in the communities he was involved with, on a path to college and NBA stardom,” Brewster Academy Head of School Dr. Craig Gemmell said in a statement. “To us here at Brewster, he was a friend, a student, and, yes, also a valued member of the prep basketball team. He arrived at Brewster as a sophomore, and quickly became a light to all who knew him with his open, positive nature and his truly infectious smile.”

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In another statement, Rivers athletic director and basketball coach Keith Zalaski said, “Terrence attracted people to him of all ages — he had a big smile, an infectious laugh, and if you spent any time around him, you knew he was something special. It’s a sad day in so many ways, and it’s amazing the number of lives he touched in his short time here. All our thoughts are with his family, friends, coaches, and teammates who were able to be around him.”

Donald Osgood (left), whose son played basketball with Terrence Clarke, and former Clarke teammate Julian Howell, 21, of Dorchester console each other during a candle lighting ceremony which was attended by more than two hundred members of the community.
Donald Osgood (left), whose son played basketball with Terrence Clarke, and former Clarke teammate Julian Howell, 21, of Dorchester console each other during a candle lighting ceremony which was attended by more than two hundred members of the community.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Clarke made an impression as soon as he walked into a room. Erik Kaloyanides, owner and founder of Athletic Evolution in Woburn, reminisced with former Davidson guard, now Kentucky transfer Kellan Grady, about watching Clarke go from a 13-year-old bouncing around the gym to one of the top prospects in the country.

Kaloyanides trained Clarke two years ago and had plans to do the same last year prior to the pandemic. He remembered having Clarke work out with Milwaukee Bucks wing Pat Connaughton and watching them connect immediately.

“Within like six seconds of the first training session together, I could already see Pat and Terrence talking,” Kaloyanides said. “At the end of my path is like, he’s just such a likable young man with such a bright future in front of him.”

To Kaloyanides, Connaughton saw in Clarke what many others did. In a line of Massachusetts NBA players the last 15 years — from Will Blaylock to Nerlens Noel to Shabazz Napier to Noah Vonleh to Wayne Selden — not only was Clarke next in line, but he was the player who could break through to star status.

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“I think a lot of Massachusetts guys that have made it or are on the verge of making it have taken it upon themselves to be role models and mentors, both on and off the court,” Kaloyanides said. “They say, listen, we take pride in the fact that Massachusetts basketball is finally being noticed and on the map.

“Although some of these other guys have already established themselves and have already made it, I don’t know if any of them had the trajectory that Terrence had.”

Terrence Clarke played in only eight games in his lone season at Kentucky, missing two and a half months due to injury.
Terrence Clarke played in only eight games in his lone season at Kentucky, missing two and a half months due to injury.Andy Lyons/Getty

Putting Boston basketball back on the map was as much a mission for Clarke as getting to the NBA.

Morales and Clarke would find themselves talking about it from time to time. There was an energy in this wave of Boston hoopers. They wanted to be the generation that not only gave a face to the city again, but also stayed connected and built bridges for the generation after it. Clarke embodied that energy.

“Everybody knew T just because of the status he got, the way he hooped and the way he brought people together,” Morales said. “We all knew that he was going to be the one to start the movement, and he wasn’t even really worried about starting the movement. He wanted to start the movement for everybody else. He wasn’t even on anything selfish. It was more just like, ‘I’m going to do this and your next, like, I’m going to make sure y’all next.’ ”

If Clarke went to the gym to work out, he brought a young protégé with him.

“That was just the type of person he was,” Morales said. “He always wanted somebody to learn or somebody to see that you can make it out.”

To Morales, Clarke was proof that the Boston basketball community is healthy and thriving. Players such as Noel, Napier, Connaughton, and Seldon laid the groundwork for Clarke, and Clarke wanted to widen the path.

“You’ve got people in the past who know what Boston is about,” Morales said. “And they’re giving back and they’re finding these kids. There’s people who actually care now and there’s people who want to see these kids win.”

“Right now in Boston we’re trying to get the negativity out and we’re trying to get all the hoopers to support one another rather than bring each other down. Like instead of hating on somebody, but why not like, why not show love? Show love and you can get that love back.

“Terrence, I think was the beginning of a wave,” Morales said. “And we all bought in. Now we’re just trying to keep it going. And we’re going to make sure that all his visions are going to be fulfilled for Boston.”


Julian Benbow can be reached at julian.benbow@globe.com.