Monson: New Jazz guard Ian Clark took a road less traveled

By Gordon Monson

Tribune columnist

Published: July 30, 2013 10:01AM
Updated: July 30, 2013 05:37PM

Ian Clark is nobody’s idea of a headliner — and that’s the man’s charge, and his charm.

Coming out of high school in Memphis, the town’s college team — the University of Memphis — treated him like yesterday’s garbage. He ended up, then, sitting on the curb, eventually recruited and scooped up by Belmont, a small school in Nashville, Tenn.

Four years later, out of college, where he shot 46 percent from beyond the three-point arc, finishing third in the nation in that regard, and averaged 18 points a game during his senior year, he was left on the curb, again, not getting drafted by any NBA team.

“I didn’t expect to get drafted,” Clark said. “I didn’t have any expectations. ... Everyone wants to hear his name called on draft night, but every guy has a different path. Some guys get drafted, some guys go overseas. I just wanted to play in the summer leagues and compete.”

Sports Illustrated called Clark: “The NBA Draft’s forgotten shooter.”

On Monday, he was remembered, signing a two-year deal with the Utah Jazz — after killing it in both the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues, where he averaged better than 16 points a game in the former and scored 33 points in the latter’s championship game.

For a player who came out of nowhere, and was seemingly headed nowhere, it’s strange that this is the second time in four months I’ve had the chance to write about him. First, Belmont showed up in March to play at EnergySolutions Arena in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region, where Clark went 8-for-14 from the floor, dropping 21 points on Arizona in the Bruins’ first-round loss.

Belmont had no chance to win that game because ... well, it never wins in the NCAA Tournament. It’s been to the tournament a fistful of times since 2006, and always lost, usually in blowouts. Clark was Belmont’s leading scorer last season and now ... he has a chance to score in the bigs.

His summertime prowess grabbed the Jazz’s attention, desperate as they are for scoring and outside accuracy, in particular. Utah was one of several clubs interested in signing the 6-foot-3, 175-pound combo-guard, and the opportunity they laid down for him — giving him a chance at earned minutes — even as a free agent, landed him here.

“They have great, young core guys who want to come out and play,” Clark said. “I had dinner with coach [Ty Corbin] last night, and we talked about it. He told me to just free up my mind” and go play.

On Monday, Clark’s mind and manner were free and easy, half marveling at his newfound chance with the Jazz, half knowing that it was somehow, somewhere in the cards all along.

While he was blown away at the timing of the Jazz offer — “I was shocked it came so fast,” he said — he also knew Utah was giving him that one thing as significant as the security of a two-year deal: a shot to do more than be a decorative piece at the end of the bench.

“It’s a good fit for me here,” he said.

The Little Engine That Could, then, fresh out of the Little Train Yard That Sort Of Could, was all about taking full advantage of the open track suddenly in front of him.

He pondered that notion long and hard when he was asked about it on Monday.

“I wasn’t highly recruited,” he said. “But I don’t regret going to Belmont at all. I just want to inspire other people that anything is possible.”

After eight NBA teams — including Boston, Houston, the Clippers, Golden State, Phoenix, Portland, Chicago and Milwaukee — worked him out in the spring and, ultimately, decided against taking him in the draft, hooking up with the team of his choice brought a big grin at his introduction.

Clark, indeed, took a different route to the NBA. But his path to playing time, with the Jazz this coming season, could be more promising for him than it is for a lot of guys who were happy to hear their names called on draft night, an emotion the Jazz’s new guard never felt and never expected.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.