Persistence pays off for Belmont’s Clark

Sunday, July 28, 2013 at 11:32pm
072613 Ian Clark topper.jpg

(Courtesy Belmont Athletics/Ben McKeown)

Ian Clark tried not to think of it as a job interview.

Given two weeks to wow potential suitors during the NBA Summer League, he set his mind not to not worry about the implications, that an NBA contract was at stake. The former Belmont shooting guard blocked out all the outside influences.

“I didn’t approach it any other way — I just played basketball,” he said. “You don’t want to try to get in the trend of doing too much and get caught up in trying to get yours. I just kept it simple, played hard, did what my coaches told me to do and had fun with my teammates. I think it all worked out.”

Clark couldn’t have scripted it much better.

On Monday, he was named the MVP of the inaugural summer league championship game in Las Vegas after scoring 33 points and making seven 3-pointers to lead the Golden State Warriors past the Phoenix Suns.

Two days later, he signed a two-year contract with the Utah Jazz. He is guaranteed $200,000 but the Jazz have a team option on the second year of his contract. He’ll head to Salt Lake City on Monday to meet with coach Tyrone Corbin and general manager Dennis Lindsey. He reports to training camp in October.

“I didn’t think I would have a deal this fast,” Clark said. “[The past two weeks have] been long — I can tell you that. Long and strenuous. But it is all worth it. It is something I love doing. To be able to call this your job is a dream come true. You say all your life you want to do something that you love, and for me to be able to do that. … it was a lot. But when it pays off it is all for the better.”

The Memphis native went undrafted in June after a four-year career at Belmont in which he was the program’s NCAA era record-holder in career points and 3-pointers made. Despite prolific long-range shooting, Clark thought questions about his ball handling, his scrawny frame — the 6-foot-3 guard has bulked up to 180 pounds — and low profile due to playing in the smaller conferences of the Ohio Valley Conference and Atlantic Sun would hurt his chances of getting drafted.

Last month, as he worked out for eight NBA teams before the draft, he spoke about seizing any opportunity he was presented.

His foot in the door came in the form of the summer league. A day after the draft, Clark inked two deals with the summer league, which features rookies — drafted and undrafted — and unsigned players (younger and older) trying to make an NBA roster.

The 22-year-old played five games for the Miami Heat in the Orlando summer league. The day after that stint ended, he was in Las Vegas, where he played seven games for the Golden State Warriors.

It didn’t take Clark long to gain confidence. In his summer league debut with the Heat, he came off the bench in the second half and scored 15 points in 16 minutes of play.

“First-game jitters, kind of got them out,” he said. “When my coaches and teammates had the confidence in me like they did, then a whole new world opens up. You understand it is just basketball, a game I have been playing for a long time. So when you get comfortable and get in the mode where you feel like you belong, then the game comes easier to you.”

He started his last four games with the Heat and averaged 16.4 points, 2.2 assists and 2.2 steals in empty gyms, since those games were closed to the public.

The atmosphere and stakes were raised when he reached Vegas. Coming off a breakout season that ended in the Western Conference semifinals, Golden State carried a buzz onto the campus of UNLV, which opened its doors to the public.

Clark maintained a consistent pace through the first six games, scoring in double figures three times and averaging nine points. But a 3-for-13 shooting performance in the semifinals against Charlotte left a bad taste in his mouth. So, with a strong Golden State cheering section on hand for the championship, Clark didn’t want to have any regrets about his last summer league game.

He made 12 of 19 shots and feasted on 3-pointers of the pull-up variety, contested and off of ball screens despite seeing double teams. Teammate and former Vanderbilt forward Lance Goulbourne also starred in the game with a team-high nine rebounds.

“I didn’t shoot that well the game before and it kind of bothered me a little bit,” he said. “So I wanted to help my team so much. The championship game I came out with the mentality of just to play hard and leave it all there. It is a championship game. It meant a lot to the Golden State Warriors. Golden State has a winning culture. It is something we wanted to portray — we’re here. So we need to come out and play hard.

“I didn’t expect to have all those points and win MVP. I just wanted to come out and help the team any way possible.”

In addition to averaging 12.4 points and shooting 48.5 percent from 3-point range (all while coming off the bench) for Golden State, Clark also believes he answered questions about his ball handling.

In both leagues, he was asked to play point guard, which he did sparingly in college. With his size, playing point and running the offense could offer the best chance for playing time in the NBA.

The next step is making an NBA roster. Teams can have a maximum of 15 players on their roster and no more than 13 on its active roster. If Clark fails to make the roster, he’ll have a chance to play in the NBA Development League.

But his agent, Jamar Smiley of BDA Management, doesn’t foresee Clark logging a lot of time in the D-League.

“I’m sure it can be beneficial to him to spend a few games exclusively at point guard for extended minutes,” Smiley said in a text message. “Time will tell but we do not expect Ian to spend long stints in the NBDL. We feel like he is ready to compete for minutes at the NBA level.”

With an NBA contract in hand, Clark is now targeting earning NBA minutes. Just don’t expect him to treat his next job interview any differently.

“You want to go in there with the same kind of attitude and just to keep working,” he said. “You never want to be satisfied with anything. They give you this opportunity but they expect you to come in and work hard and showcase what you can do again. It is kind of like starting all over again with a new team and going in trying to impress those guys and help the team any way possible.”