When Terrence Clarke was about 12 years old, before he emerged as one of the most highly touted basketball prospects in the history of Boston, he was enchanted by highlight clips of a star forward at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga.
Clarke saw the way Jaylen Brown soared and dunked and made defenders look silly. He was rapt.
“Ever since he was in high school, he was one of the main players I wanted to watch and take things from his game,” Clarke said. “He was really strong and passionate about his game, and he was killing it.”
Clarke, a Dorchester native and longtime Celtics fan, was thrilled when the Celtics selected Brown with the third overall pick of the 2016 draft. And over time, Clarke emerged as a basketball sensation himself.
So last summer he sent Brown a direct message on Instagram. He told him how much he admired him and said he would love to meet him and perhaps even play basketball with him. He wasn’t even sure if Brown would respond, but he did. And before long, Clarke had found a mentor in one of the best young basketball players in the world.
“It’s spectacular,” Clarke said. “It’s a blessing for me. Ever since I was younger I looked up to NBA players, because I always wanted to be there. So just getting help mentally and physically from him, seeing stuff he’s done, it’s making me grow. I feel like I can make myself better because of him.”
Clarke, a 6-foot-7-inch wing who committed to the University of Kentucky last fall, now attends Brewster Academy, which sits about 100 miles north of Boston in Wolfeboro, N.H. But he returns home often, and he usually ends up spending time with Brown and Brown’s older brother, Quenton.
“He’s a good kid, a really good kid,” Brown said of Clarke. “He’s talented. I’ve been giving him advice and stuff like that, but a kid like that doesn’t really need too much. He’s going to experience things and learn for himself, and he’s going to be an NBA player someday. So I’m not taking credit for his growth or anything, but I’ve enjoyed trying to help him. It’s nice to try to be a mentor to someone like that.”
Brown and Clarke have worked out together at Boston-area rec centers several times. They’ve done drills and even played one-on-one, and Clarke said he’s learned so much in those sessions.
“You can say I beat him once before, but he’s won the majority of the games,” Clarke said with a chuckle. “But they’re always good battles. It’s made me better trying to stop him. It’s great to play against him and learn from him, because there’s things that he does that I’d love to put in my game.”
Brown has come away from their matchups impressed by Clarke’s potential.
“He’s the same height as me but really shifty,” he said. “He’s got a nice handle, a nice jump shot off the dribble. He’s athletic, long, and he’s wiry. He’s got a lot of the tools he needs to be successful.”
Clarke is still a Celtics fan and he watches the team on television or online whenever he can. When he misses the games, he usually goes to YouTube to look up highlights of Brown’s performances. Brown has even invited him as his guest to a few games at TD Garden this year.
On Dec. 14, with the Celtics in the midst of a three-day break, Brown went to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and watched Clarke’s Brewster Academy team play there.
“For him to come to that game, with how much he’s on the road playing and stuff like that, that meant a lot to me,” Clarke said.
Brown was there for support, but also to offer instruction and guidance. Afterward, he talked to Clarke about not getting down on himself if he misses a few shots in a row.
They’ve also talked about how he can become a better defender just by using his length.
Clarke said that when his year at Brewster Academy ends, he hopes to spend even more time with Brown as he prepares for his freshman year at Kentucky. He still cannot believe that he’s found a willing mentor whose day job is trying to dunk on players like LeBron James. Clarke hopes to be at that level someday, too. He said that if he makes it, he will pay it forward, particularly in the Boston area.
“When I was younger I didn’t have somebody I could talk to and be there for everybody in the city,” Clarke said. “I said when I get to a high level I want to be there for the other kids that are trying to be at the same level I’m going to be at. I want to be an advocate for the city and set an example for everybody else. A lot of times people don’t have someone in their corner, so I want to be that guy for everyone in the city.”