Octorara boys' basketball coach Gene Lambert remembers watching Lamont Clark play in middle school. Clark rarely got a shot off because he was usually among the smallest players on the court, at 5-foot-3.

But Lambert saw things in Clark that he liked very much.

"I knew Lamont had talent. He's very athletic and very quick," said Lambert, who looks to the now 5-10 senior to lead the Braves past the frustrations of the last two seasons.

Both years, they watched West Chester Rustin make off with the championship in the Ches-Mont League American Division. Last season, the Braves (19-6) lost to Springfield (Delco) in the District 1 Class AAA semifinals, 46-44. Then in the play-in round for the district's third spot in the PIAA playoffs, they fell to Pottsgrove.

"We'd like to change that this year," said Clark, who had a growth spurt when he got to high school. "I think we can go farther than last year."

Last season, Clark contributed 13 points a game but was more of a distributor of the ball. This season, Lambert expects Clark to be more of a scorer. The Braves lost two starters, including high-scoring Moses Togbah.

Clark can shoot three-pointers but is known for driving to the basket, often pulling up to shoot short jumpers. He also takes great pride in his defense.

"I have quick hands, and I move my feet well," he said, describing his defensive prowess.

He first learned his skills at age 7 while playing at Ash Park in Coatesville. He continued to hone them there in what is a highly competitive summer league.

When he isn't at Ash Park, he usually plays at another park around the corner from his house. Asked to rate his ballhandling skills on a 1-10 scale, he unabashedly said "a 10." He has been talking to several Division III schools for basketball.

Lambert expects the combination of Clark, juniors Charles Cooper and James Brown, and senior Conor Kasabo to lead the way when the Braves open next Tuesday against Pennsbury, a Class AAAA school from the Suburban One League National Conference.

Octorara will play Rustin for the first time on Jan. 6 at home. The two teams will meet again on Feb. 1. The Braves will open league play Dec. 21 at home against Kennett.

Kasabo is one of the American Division's tallest players, at 6-7.

"He's a strong boy," Lambert said of the 220-pounder. "We need him to control the middle and give us more scoring. He's got to put the ball in the basket."

Cooper is a 5-9 guard. Brown is a 6-2 forward.

Contact staff writer Don Beideman at 267-815-0733