This wasn’t a typical morning for former Belmont standout Ian Clark. For the first time since his AAU days back in middle school, Clark was not only up early, but ready to take the floor for a game at 8 a.m.
The early wake-up call didn’t appear to have any impact.
The former Bruin wrapped up the first week of NBA Summer League play on a high note: team-high 18 points, seven assists, an impressive six steals, and a team-leading 35 minutes on the court, sitting out just four minutes of the Miami Heat’s Orlando finale. It wraps up a week that saw Clark lead the team in scoring, and shoot almost 50% from the floor.
If you follow former Clark on twitter, there’s two phrases you’ll see the Belmont star use repeatedly: “Thank the man,” and “God got it.” To Clark, those aren’t just empty words. It truly part of who he is, and part of his philosophy not just on the court, but throughout his life.
Right now, Clark has plenty to be thankful for.
As Clark now prepares to begin anew next week in Las Vegas with a new team, it’s becoming clear that Clark is on the precipice of doing something great.
“This is a great opportunity for me. A lot of guys are out here playing, and you want to give it your best. I just try to do that day in and day out.”
Belmont’s all time leading scorer isn’t getting to take the easy route to success, although he would surely tell you such a thing doesn’t exist. But even among the limited pathways open to players to make it as a professional in the NBA, Clark’s path is of a particular challenge.
As an undrafted free agent, few are invited to take part in the NBA summer league, and fewer still are able to find their way onto an NBA roster.
While Clark’s journey hasn’t climbed over that last hurdle just yet, you can bet he has faith that it will.
“I think all this stuff will take care of itself, Clark told me today after finished up Summer League play in Orlando. “I think you can’t really worry about all of that because it deters you from how you play.”
From undrafted to NBA Summer League standout
On June 27th, the world sat an watched what was described as many as one of the wildest NBA drafts in history. From the very first pick, it was clear that the draft wasn’t going to go as the “experts” expected.
For fans of the Ohio Valley Conference, we didn’t know how it would affect us. Could it mean more guys get drafted? Could someone go in the first round?
In the end, it was a disappointment for not only the fans, but players like Clark. Even though he knew the odds of hearing his name were long, it’s still something he longed for.
“I wasn’t disappointed the day of because I knew my chances were very slim,” Clark said. “You want to hear your name called, it’s a dream since you were a kid. But at the same time, people have different roles and different paths, and I knew mine was to come out on a Summer League team and kind of prove myself.”
One week in, it’s clear he’s doing just that. Heading into today’s game, Clark ranked six among all-summer league players in scoring, beating out some of the guys who heard their name called just weeks before.
“Being able to play with these guys makes you want to up your game to another level,” Clark said, “because you see how good they are, and what they’ve done in the past. It’s tremendous to be on the court with them, it’s a huge honor.”
“I didn’t know how I would come out and play,” he added. “But I just wanted to come out and be solid.”
As many of those guys play with a signed contract in hand, their immediate future secure, Clark is matching and exceeding them all while facing uncertainty. In the end, he says he’s focused solely on performing on the court.
“I’ve just been playing, I haven’t been worried about any of that.”
Changing from Heat red to Golden State blue
When Clark goes to Vegas next week, he won’t be playing with the guys he’s come to know over the past two weeks. Instead, he’ll be switching teams, and coaches, joining the Golden State summer league.
He’ll be joining a team that made their mark this past year thanks to their incredible shooters.
Unlike many of the other guys on the floor, he’ll have to get used to a new set of teammates, which Clark realizes creates yet another challenge.
“It will be different. We had five practices before we came to Orlando, and that first game against Utah, we weren’t really gelling like we were supposed to be,” Clark said. “I think these last two games we came together and really played together. It’s going to be tough going and doing it all over again, but I’m looking forward to another Golden State opportunity, and I’m sure after a game or two, the guys and I on the court can gel together.”
There’s little time to rest for Clark, who has already played five games in the past six days. The hectic schedule hasn’t allowed him to enjoy much of what Orlando has to offer, and will likely keep him from the spectacle that is Las Vegas as well.
“We had one day off, but when you get that one day off you don’t want to do anything but rest. ”
It hasn’t been long since Clark wore Belmont blue, but in talking to him today, he realizes how far he’s truly come.
“I’ve just been coming out, playing hard,” Clark said. “I thank the Miami Heat for this week for giving me the opportunity, and hope I can continue that in Vegas.”
When pressed on what changed since his Belmont days, he says it comes down to playing a new position.
“I’ve been working a lot on my ball handling. I’ve been trying to become more of a point guard, just to get comfortable and to be able to handle the ball in situations where needed. I think that’s helped me a lot this week.”
He may not have a contract yet. But like him, I have faith that his path to the NBA is far from closed.