When Messiah Clark, with his muscular build and tough demeanor, enrolled at Hewlett High School after moving to Long Island from Brooklyn before his sophomore year, not too many kids spoke to him.
"He was new and everyone was kind of scared of him when he came around," Hewlett senior center Joe Pasquale said.
Everyone except for Pasquale, that is. In Clark, Pasquale saw a quality he thought Hewlett's boys basketball team was missing. He invited Clark to basketball tryouts that year and the team quickly found him to be an enforcer -- a guy who plays physically and without fear.
"I wouldn't step in front of him to take a charge," guard Ryan Steinberg said of the 6-1 Clark, who is 200 pounds of pure muscle. "He's the kind of guy you want on your team because you certainly don't want to be going against him."
He's also the guy you want at the free-throw line when it's time to seal the game.
The senior made two free throws with 14 seconds left for the final four-point margin in host Hewlett's 52-48 win over Floral Park Friday night in a Nassau Conference A-III game.
"When he was at the line," Steinberg said, "I didn't even have to look."
Said Pasquale: "There was absolutely no doubt with Messiah."
Pasquale, who is 6-5, was a force in the paint with 15 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks for Hewlett (5-2). Steinberg added 13 points and eight rebounds. Clark had seven points and six rebounds . . . and drew two pivotal charges in the fourth quarter.
"Messiah has this crazy personality that enables him to do it all for us," Pasquale said.
Kevin Cluess had 25 points, 12 rebounds, five steals and four blocks for Floral Park (4-3).
Hewlett, which led throughout, had a 14-point lead in the third quarter and led by nine with four minutes left in the game, but the Knights almost pulled off an unlikely comeback.
Cluess' deep three-pointer from the left wing tied it at 47 with 1:05 left. Less than 10 seconds later, Steinberg answered with a long three-pointer from the left wing.
"We were looking to pull the ball out, but Coach said if we had a shot to take it, and I was pretty confident I was going to make it," Steinberg said.
Jimmy Guerriero's free throw cut the deficit to 50-48 with 16 seconds left. Then Floral Park fouled the guy who teammates say plays with the most confidence on the court.
"I like to bring an intimidation factor on defense and a confidence on offense," Clark said. "If you don't play confident, you don't win."