When Raven Farley-Clark first transferred to Queen of Peace from the Patrick School in Elizabeth last year, she had no idea what it was going to be like playing for new head girls’ basketball coach Jiovanny Fontan.
“I thought I was doing everything right,” Farley-Clark said. “Of course, I challenged him and of course, I questioned whether I did the right thing.”
“To be honest, we had a tough time,” Fontan said. “We asked her to work harder than she ever had in her life. She had to become a better teammate and person. She had to be able to take criticism.”
Farley-Clark knew that eventually she had to make a change.
“It was a different feeling than what I was used to,” Farley-Clark said. “Jio was a different coach than what I had. It took a while to get adjusted to him. It was a little difficult. I know now that he was doing it to make me a better player, but it took a while.”
It helped that Farley-Clark had a good influence at home in her mom Rasheeda Farley.
“A lot of the credit has to go to her mom,” said Fontan, who was a standout player at St. Anthony who went on to have a fine career at Fordham and later the University of Southern California. “She helped the complete change as person.”
“My mom helped me a lot,” Farley-Clark said.
There was no denying Farley-Clark’s talent. At 6-foot-5, she towers over everyone else on the floor on the high school level. She also has incredible athleticism for someone her size _ the ability to run, move her feet, get into position to play defense and grab rebounds. Those were all God-given talents and the reasons why Farley-Clark was gaining attention from all the major colleges.
Simply put, girls like Farley-Clark don’t come around every day.
It’s also part of the reason why she has gained attention as a McDonald’s All-American.
“She understands that it’s part of the reason why she’s an All-American,” Fontan said. “That’s some title to have.”
Fontan should know, because he had a teammate at St. Anthony named Mike Rosario who earned McDonald’s All-American status.
It’s very rare for someone in this area to receive the honor, but Nutley’s Blair Watson received the honor last year, the lone New Jersey girl to receive the accolade.
“Once I got nominated, I knew I had a chance to be picked,” Farley-Clark said. “It’s a tremendous honor. I was the only one from New Jersey to be picked. I didn’t think it was possible. I was amazed and shocked when it happened.”
Lately, Farley-Clark has been playing like an All-American, leading the Golden Griffins in the NJSIAA state playoffs.
Last week, Farley-Clark helped to lead her team to the NJSIAA Non-Public B North semifinals with wins over Morristown-Beard and Eastern Christian.
In the victory over Morristown-Beard, Farley-Clark produced a triple-double, scoring 17 points, grabbing 20 rebounds and blocking 10 shots. In the win over Eastern Christian, Farley-Clark tallied 22 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had five blocked shots.
For her efforts, Farley-Clark has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Fontan believes that Farley-Clark is just scratching the surface.
“Coach (Bob) Hurley (the Hall of Fame coach who Fontan played for) would hate me for saying this, but she has a bunch of potential,” Fontan said. “She’s a freak athlete in that she’s the biggest girl on the floor, but we opened the door for her to shoot three-pointers now. The sky’s the limit with her and her body. Someone is going to train her body.”
Farley-Clark, with the help of her mother, strategically went to visit only the schools she were interested.
“After we went on the visits, we narrowed it down to five schools,” Farley-Clark said. “My mother has been hands-on throughout the process. It made it a whole lot easier to play this year knowing my decision was made.”
Farley-Clark will head to Louisiana State University in the fall.
“It’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” Farley-Clark said. “I just wanted to be able to relax this season and not have the pressure of worrying who is watching me.”
“There was no need to drag it all out,” Fontan said. “She should enjoy her senior year instead of worrying about it every night. I’m all for making the decision early.”
Fontan said that Farley-Clark has also transformed herself on the court.
“She really has improved her jump shot,” Fontan said. “That was a concern coming into the season, but she worked on it. She’s developed consistency in her jump shot.”
Farley-Clark also worked on being a better all-around teammate.
“When I first got here, I spent a lot of time to myself,” Clark said. “I stopped trying to be someone I wasn’t and just acted like myself. Every activity now involves my teammates and friends. The chemistry is there with this team. We grew as people and as friends. I know I grew a lot and became a better person.”
Needless to say, Farley-Clark is like a new person.
“She’s had a complete transformation,” Fontan said. “She’s been more motivated. I guess she didn’t want people to second guess that she’s an All-American.”
Farley-Clark has been averaging close to 19 points and 13 rebounds per game. She has had five games this season where she grabbed more than 20 rebounds.
The Golden Griffins were set to face Immaculate Conception of Lodi in the sectional semifinals Monday night, facing a team that had already defeated them twice this season _ once in the regular season and once in the semifinals of the Bergen County tournament.
“We’re trying to break that streak,” Farley-Clark said. “We’re going to leave it all on the court.”
After the state playoffs are over, Farley-Clark can concentrate on going to the McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago later this month.
“I’m very excited to get a chance to play against the best players in the country,” Farley-Clark said. “It’s going to be an unbelievable experience.”
Almost as unbelievable as the transformation she’s enjoyed as a high school player.