Clahar and Pirri's Basketball Odyssey Culminates on Senior Day
March 7, 2013
Saturday’s regular-season finale against BIG EAST Conference opponent Pittsburgh at 1 p.m. will include a Senior Day ceremony honoring Clahar and Pirri.
Both took a circuitous route in arriving at Lincoln Park. Clahar was a standout point guard in junior college for two seasons before accepting a scholarship offer from DePaul coach Oliver Purnell.
Pirri, who was Louisiana’s top three-point shooter as a senior in high school, started out at Southeast Missouri State and transferred to Rice before joining the Blue Demons as a graduate student.
Each had to overcome obstacles before reaching the highest level of competition in Division I basketball.
For the 5-foot, 11-inch Clahar, he has battled all his life to prove that he is every bit as capable as those nearly a foot taller.
For the 6-8 Pirri, the biggest challenge was putting his life back together after he and his family were forced to evacuate their home by the devastating Hurricane Katrina.
Here are profiles on each of the DePaul seniors.
This dynamic point guard from Brooklyn towered over everyone else during a memorable performance on Feb. 16.
Just two days after Valentine’s Day, the Blue Demon who plays with as much heart as anyone on the team had a career game in DePaul’s 75-69 BIG EAST victory over Rutgers that snapped a nine-game losing streak.
Those in the boisterous crowd at Allstate Arena on that Saturday afternoon won’t soon forget how Clahar’s late-game steals, uncanny baskets in the lane over players nearly a foot taller and his bulldog defense sparked the Blue Demons to one of their biggest wins of the season.
One play in particular encapsulates what this fearless senior meant to his team on that day. DePaul led 70-66 with 35 seconds left when Charles McKinney missed on a jumper. Clahar leaped and extended every bit of his 5-11 frame in corralling the offensive rebound. Seven seconds later, Brandon Young buried two free throws.
"It's not about size---it's about determination," said Clahar, who also had seven assists, four rebounds and three steals in his best performance as a Blue Demon. "I knew that rebound was so important for our team. Being a senior leader, I just had to do it."
In three overtime losses, DePaul needed a hero in crunch time. Clahar answered the call against the Scarlet Knights.
"This was the best he has played since he's been here," Purnell said. "When things got tough, Worrel in particular made plays on both ends of the court. He came up with loose balls and key rebounds. He drove against their zone near the end and made a tough layup. How big was that?
"It was so important to say to our players and to our crowd that we were in good shape."
Myles Mack scored 14 points in a row for Rutgers as the visiting team went ahead 66-64 with less than three minutes left in the game. Clahar tied it with a driving layup. After McKinney's free throw provided a one-point lead, Clahar converted a three-point play off a tough drive in the lane on the layup Purnell described. In crunch time, Clahar was assigned to defend Mack, who finished with a game-high 28 points.
"Not many guys in the BIG EAST can get it going like Mack," Purnell said. "Worrel bull-dogged him and turned him over. He did a nice job defensively at the end."
That career day highlighted a four-game span that included Villanova, Marquette and Notre Dame in which Clahar averaged 13 points and nearly six assists per game. At that point in the season, Clahar was fourth on the team in scoring and second in rebounds despite coming off the bench in all but four games.
It’s a testament to Clahar’s resourcefulness and blue-collar work ethic that a guy 5-11 can be currently third on the team in total rebounds.
In a game against Milwaukee earlier in the season, Clahar came away with 10 assists, eight rebounds, four points and four steals. He scored 16 points against Marquette and totaled 14 points at Arizona State. He finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists against Villanova and 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists at Chicago State.
“I put in a lot of work over the summer,” Clahar said. “It felt like the time had come for me to step up as a senior and play an important role on this team. I felt like a team leader and my game flourished over the summer. Then, it spilled over into this season.
“This year, I’m just playing ball and letting the game come to me. I’m not thinking as much as I did last year. I know I’m capable of playing this way. There was an adjustment period for me coming from junior college to the BIG EAST. That’s a pretty big jump. You don’t know what to expect until you’re actually in that situation yourself.
“You can’t play in the BIG EAST like you did in junior college. All the big men here are more athletic, faster and stronger. The guards in the BIG EAST are just as fast and athletic as you are. The game speed is much faster at this level.”
Then again, Clahar has been ahead of the basketball learning curve for most of his life. That happens when your older brother Warren introduces you to the game and encourages you to compete against physically more mature and more experienced players.
That imparted an underdog mentality into this undersized warrior, a perpetual chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that motivated him to challenge all comers---no matter how big and strong.
“I’m not going to let the skills of others decide my fate,” said the Brooklyn-born Clahar. “I’ll always go to the hole. I come from a background of playing in the New York City playgrounds.
“You can’t be afraid of going to the hole against the big guys. You went up strong, and we didn’t call fouls. You try calling a foul in a playground game and you’ll get kicked out of the park. Coming from New York City, that’s how it is. Brooklyn has produced guards like Rod Strickland, Jamaal Tinsley, Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair, Lance Stephenson and Pearl Washington.”
When you’re less than 6-feet tall trying to carve out a niche in a big man’s game, fearlessness and self- confidence are invaluable prerequisites. Watching Clahar take it to the rim against defenders nearly a foot taller is the first sign there’s no room for intimidation in his world.
It’s no wonder he once scored 40 points in a game at Alcovy High School in Covington, Ga., where his family moved after a childhood in Brooklyn. Clahar also recorded 21 assists in one game and 11 steals in another.
As a sophomore at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham, Ala., Clahar ranked in the top 15 in the nation among junior college players in assists and steals.
“I don’t have a lot of height, but I’ve always had a lot of heart and determination,” Clahar said. “I work harder than anyone else. It’s a good feeling when I score on a bigger guy because people have always been putting me down because of my size.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the tallest or the smallest---if you don’t have heart, you won’t succeed.”
Clahar’s inner resolve comes from his upbringing.
“My confidence comes from the way my mom (Rosemarie Douglas) raised me,” Clahar said. “Mom always worked and sacrificed to keep a roof over our heads---for me, my brother Warren and my sister Claudia. Even when she was pretty sick, mom still went to work. She raised the three of us by herself.
“Whenever I had a bad game, she would tell me: ‘Don’t worry about it. Let it go and start focusing on your next game. Keep on driving and don’t take any days off.’
“Mom never had an option to not work so hard. She knew what it took, and did it. She knew that if she didn’t work, we wouldn’t eat.”
Clahar’s dominance in high school attracted recruiting interest from a number of schools, including Mississippi. He signed with Texas Southern, but was later granted a release and wound up at Lawson State. During his final season in junior college, Minnesota and Ole Miss were among his suitors.
“But once DePaul came into the picture and followed up with an offer, I made my decision,” Clahar said. “DePaul offered me in August of 2011 and I committed in early September.
“Some of my biggest improvements this season is taking better care of the ball and playing with a free mind. I’m not worrying about turnovers, making a mistake or being taken out of a game.”
He is glad he wound up in Lincoln Park.
“Coming to DePaul has been an experience I wish everyone could have,” Clahar said. “It has been a time that I will remember forever. I can see the city of Chicago yearning for a great college basketball program. I saw how excited the fans got during our seven-game winning streak and how anxious they are for a winner in the city.
“I see how good DePaul had been back in the days of Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings and how badly DePaul fans want that to return. You could feel it during the Notre Dame game at Allstate Arena. There’s a real passion about DePaul basketball.
And his teammates won’t soon forget the personable, fun-loving playmaker who knew how to make them laugh. As Clahar stands on the Ray and Marge Meyer Court with Pirri, favorite moments may come rushing back to him.
“I’ll be moving on with some great memories like the Pittsburgh game last season,” Clahar said. “Brandon came up so big at the end, and when it was over, so many students stormed onto the court. It was so crazy and exciting, and I have never been happier in my career.
“I want everybody to remember me as a hard-nosed player, and that I was tougher than a $2 steak. It seems like I just got here yesterday.
“With four years at DePaul, I could have gotten better at everything I do, every year. I could have had a career that would set me aside from other players.”
The summer of 2005 was a memorable one for the city of Chicago as long-suffering baseball fans on both sides of town marveled at the totally unexpected World Series championship run by the White Sox.
But 922 miles to the south, DePaul forward Stuart Pirri was about to experience the biggest upheaval of his life.
On Aug. 29, the same day a White Sox road loss against the Texas Rangers left the South Siders 30 games above .500, Pirri and his older sisters Kellen and Clare were awakened in the middle of the night.
“I’ll never forget that night,” Pirri said. “My mom suddenly woke us up. She had been watching the news on TV and saw that the evacuation order had been issued. We left at 2 a.m. and drove to Houston.
“Our family lived in Metairie, La. which is six miles from New Orleans. On Aug. 29th, just before my sophomore year at Metairie Park Country Day, Hurricane Katrina struck. My mom Penny and my two older sisters and I evacuated to Houston. My dad Steve stayed behind and looked after the house.
“Houston was the closest place we could think of going. We’ve had to evacuate our area once a year because of hurricanes, so we were used to the drill. It was usually for a day or two and felt like an extended weekend. We all have a go-bag of clothes and toiletries.”
But this catastrophe of Mother Nature would be unlike any drill the Pirri’s had undergone before. This would be the most devastating thing that ever happened in their lives.
“We began our journey on Interstate 10, and it’s a drive that normally takes five hours from Metairie,” Pirri said. “But this time it took us 22 hours. The state police had set it up so all lanes of the highway were going to Houston, and it still took us that long. We were inching along the whole way.
“We tried to play some games, but I-Spy got old after a while. Our cell phones worked for part of the trip and then went out. We were pretty tired by the time we got to Houston.
“This time, the evacuation trip lasted for almost three weeks. I had two sets of clothes for the whole time. Yeah, I did a lot of laundry. We knew it was going to be pretty bad from all the news reports, but we didn’t think it was going to be that bad.”
They tried to make the best of it.
“We stayed at a hotel in the Galleria mall complex,” Pirri said. “It was us and another family. We split three rooms between nine people to save some money. There was no school for us in Houston, so we had free time for almost three weeks.
“I did a lot of looking around and exploring. We did some family stuff. We went to an Astros’ game, and this was when they were actually good with Roger Clemens. That was the year they made it to the World Series and lost to the White Sox.”
News stories reported that 240,000 New Orleans residents fled to Houston during the evacuation. By Sept. 4, there were 16,000 taking refuge inside the Astrodome.
“We were constantly running into people who had evacuated because of Katrina,” Pirri said. “Almost every step we took, we saw someone from New Orleans.
“Once it was all-clear, we met back up with my dad in Baton Rouge. Our family and another family who were friends of my dad were fortunate to find a three-bedroom home that we shared.
“Kellen had gone back to college, so I shared a room with Clare. There were some nights when all the kids slept in this large den area to allow another relocating family to stay with us for a while. We knew what they were going through and were glad to help out.”
In putting his life back together, Pirri was reunited with a basketball coach he had met during the AAU season the summer after his freshman year. Pirri enrolled at Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge and played for coach Todd Foster. When the rest of the Pirri family returned to Metairie, Stuart stayed with a friend and his family in Baton Rouge.
“We won the state title every year at Christian Life,” Pirri said. “I played with other Division I players there. Even though we were in the smallest class at 1A, we beat the 2A, 4A and 5A champions.”
Pirri was second-team All-State as a senior and hit 139 shots from beyond the arc while converting at a 48 percent clip. He averaged 18 points, six rebounds and four assists and signed with Southeast Missouri State.
But during his first semester on campus, the basketball coach was fired for major NCAA violations. Pirri transferred to Rice and sat out a year. SEMO teammate Jimmy Drew was able to transfer to DePaul and play that season.
Pirri played in five games his first year at Rice and in eight games during the 2010-11 season. He came to DePaul as a graduate student walk-on last June.
“I enjoyed basketball and wanted to be around the game one more year,” Pirri said. “I talked to Jimmy and he put everything in motion. He is the reason I ended up here.
“I knew I wouldn’t play that much. But Chicago is a great city and DePaul is a great university. How many guys can say they were a part of a BIG EAST team and competed in the best conference in the country?
“It’s been great. Every time I’m on the court, I try to come away with one positive stat. Maybe it’s grabbing a rebound, assisting on a basket or taking a charge. I hit a three-pointer in our season-opening win over UC Riverside and got a rebound against Austin Peay. I played in games at Connecticut and at Pittsburgh.
Like Clahar, Pirri is glad his college basketball odyssey ended with the Blue Demons.
“From day one, the guys accepted me as part of the family,” Pirri said. “This is a very close-knit group. It’s like we’re all brothers in the locker room. The coaches have been very supportive.
"Every teacher has been great and my classmates have been very helpful. I haven’t had a bad class yet, and I’ve really enjoyed this whole DePaul experience.”