By Zach Braziller
When Bryce Elie was asked about his father, Clark Elie’s, whereabouts, he said he wasn’t around. Not gone, although Clark died Oct. 24 in a fatal car accident at the age of 54.
He wasn’t avoiding the truth. Bruce Elie still has his father, who taught him the game of basketball, who is still with him. He was there when he got off to a slow start, and he’s been there as his play has rapidly improved, particularly this postseason, as the 6-foot-2 forward has helped lead third-seeded Queens High School of Teaching to the PSAL Class B city championship game.
“He’s watching, definitely,” Bryce Elie said. “He’s smiling.”
He isn’t the only one. So is Bryce Elie’s famous cousin, two-time NBA champion Mario Elie, an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings. Like Bryce, Mario learned the game from Clark, who won a pair of CUNY titles at City College and went on to become a streetball legend, earning the moniker “Mr. Backboard.”
The two, Mario and Bryce, have grown close since the tragic death of Clark. They would see each other every summer, when Bryce was on vacation. He attended several of Mario’s NBA games when he was playing, even a few NBA finals tilts, but always with his father.
Now, they talk more often, via text message or phone. Mario has taken up the mantle from Clark as Bryce’s chief motivator. He tells his nephew not what he wants to hear, but needs to hear, whether it is improving his eating habits, spending more time in the gym and staying up on his schoolwork. Mario plans on spending much of the summer with Bryce in his hometown of Houston, Texas, and get him on an AAU team to be seen by college coaches.
“At his age, he needs some guidance, somebody who will be a part of the process,” noted Mario, who grew up in the area and starred at Power Memorial. “I’m excited about his future.”
So are his Queens HS of Teaching teammates. After a slow start, Bryce averaged nine points and seven rebounds per game as the Tigers went 14-0 in Queens B East. In the playoffs, those numbers improved to 12 points and nine rebounds per contest.
“Definitely, he’s the X-factor for us,” Coach Michael Shelton said of the athletically gifted 6-foot-2 forward. “He has the potential; we just have to push him.”
The timing of this basketball season has come as a welcome relief for Bryce. It has served as an escape, a way to forget the pain of losing his father, his closest friend. He has transferred his remorse into the sport he loves, the one he learned to play from his dad.
“It calms me down,” he said.
Said his mother, Stacie Elie: “He’s determined now. He’s missing his dad a lot, but this is something for him to carry on.”
Clark Elie won’t literally be at St. Francis College tomorrow afternoon. But to Bryce, he can picture him, picture him yelling and encouraging him to get aggressive.
“He makes me want to be a better player,” he said.
So Bryce will envision his father’s look, the one that tells him to pick up his game. The one he has seen so often, before his death and after it.