Whenever he's on a basketball court, Elijah Clarance of Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt is a must-watch player, capable of unleashing a highlight dunk at any moment. A big motivation behind the 20-year-old's heroics is to move his mother out of the tough Swedish neighborhood where he grew up.
Clarance finished the 7DAYS EuroCup Regular Season averaging 3.6 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists over 13 minutes in five games. But in that limited time, the 1.95-meter rookie guard produced two of the top 10 dunks of the EuroCup Regular Season.
"At the end of the day, I embrace coming from Nydala because it made me who I am today."
"I'm just in attack mode at all times. When I go up to the rim, I am blessed enough to go up and dunk it," the Swede said.
Looking at his energy, it should not be a surprise that Clarance compares his game to those of Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard.
"My favorite player is Russell Westbrook," he says. "It's their ability to playmake and create for themselves, but also create for their teammates. They are extremely aggressive and find ways to score."
Quite a bit of Clarance's nature came from his upbringing in the Malmo neighborhood of Nydala in southern Sweden.
"It's definitely not a privileged area. There is a lot of violence and stuff going on, unfortunately. A lot of shootings," he said. "When I was younger it did affect me. My home situation was not the best but I stay positive and I had good people around me. At the end of the day, I embrace coming from Nydala because it made me who I am today."
Clarance was able to get out of Nydala, heading to the United States when he was 16 years old to attend St. Maria Goretti high school in Hagerstown, Maryland. After graduating, he stayed in the U.S. and spent last season at Illinois State University. Clarance's ability to showcase his game with the university team was limited as he missed four months with a foot injury and ended up contributing just 2.7 points and 1.1 rebounds in 11 minutes over 21 games.
"It definitely put a bigger chip on my shoulder because I felt going into college I just wanted to prove a lot to a lot of people and I wasn't able to do that," Clarance said. "All the adversity that I had to face in college I think helped me a lot."
Instead of using college to show the basketball world what he could do, Clarance wowed spectators in Chemnitz, Germany this past summer at the FIBA U20 European Championship 2018. Clarance took the tournament by storm, leading all scorers with 22.4 points to go with 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals, although Sweden finished 14th and was relegated to Division B.
"I definitely used missing time in college as a motivation," said Clarance, whose scoring output has been matched by only Nikola Mirotic and Lauri Markkanen in U20 European history since 2010. "Those are great players, so it's definitely a blessing."
That performance sparked interest in Clarance from clubs in a few countries. What attracted Clarance to Skyliners was the club's recent history of developing young players, especially Isaac Bonga, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers last June.
"I was just thinking it was a great youth program. I heard from a lot of people that (head coach) Gordie (Herbert) develops young players really well. That was the main reason for picking Frankfurt," Clarance said.
Clarance's move into professional basketball brings him closer to another major goal -- helping move his mother out of Nydala.
"She is definitely one of my motivations," he said. "I wake up with the purpose of trying to get my mother out of there."
Clarance would also like to help his Trinidad-born father get out of the area as well. His parents divorced but he still has great contact with both.
"I wake up with the purpose of trying to get my mother out of there."
Meanwhile, Clarance is working on improving his game, which includes playing with the Frankfurt club's second team in Germany's third division, where he is averaging 13.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.9 steals.
"I use the [third division] as a learning experience," he said. "I need to get better and read the game. I need to be more patient with the game and become a better point guard."
Practicing with Frankfurt's top team, and especially getting to learn from the 34-year-old team icon Quantez Robertson, has been a great experience for Clarance.
"Tez is a machine. He's been here for 10 years. What he is doing -- playing close to 40 minutes every game -- is amazing. He gives me advice all the time. I look up to him for sure," Clarance said.
Another player Clarance looked up to was Jonas Jerebko, who was the first non-American Swedish player in the NBA.
"I grew up thinking that if he can make it then I can make it," said Clarance, who talked to Jerebko as recently as after the Skyliners' last EuroCup Regular Season game. "He gave me great advice. He just said keep making your teammates better, become a better leader because that's what it takes to get to the next level."
Clarance may get a chance to make his senior national team debut on February 21 when Sweden hosts Denmark in a game taking place in Malmo.
"When I heard the news that it would be in my city, I was really shocked. It was an amazing feeling because they haven't played in Malmo in like 20 years," he said. "Just being able to be part of that would be amazing and everybody I know would be there for sure."