Memphis, Tenn. • Ian Clark wasn’t in his uniform Monday. Instead, he sat at the end of the bench, wearing a blazer and tie, one of two inactive Jazz players at FedExForum.
It’s not the first time the Memphis native has been passed over. While his AAU teammates were getting scholarship offers from bigger schools, Clark settled on mid-major Belmont. And on draft night, Clark’s name was not called. These are the experiences that motivate the 22-year-old combo guard.
“Definitely,” he said. “But I try not to worry about things I can’t control. If I get in here and work and do the best I can, I think everything else will fall into place.”
That’s been Clark’s way for years.
As a prep standout at Memphis’ Germantown High, Clark helped his school emerge from basketball obscurity, putting together consecutive 20-win seasons in Tennessee’s toughest classification.
Before Clark arrived, the school had never made it out of district play and into the regionals.
“The night before the elimination game, I kind of had a pep talk with the team. I was really nervous,” Newton Mealer, Clark’s high school coach, said. “Ian was the last guy out of the locker room. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Coach, you’ve got to quit being so nervous. I’ll have this team ready to win.’”
The next night, Clark’s Germantown beat Kirby 56-54.
Mealer was certain Clark, whom he called one of the best shooters to ever come out of the city, would go on to play for a top Division I program. But while his AAU teammates Leslie McDonald (North Carolina) and Farrakhon Hall (Memphis) got big offers, Clark went to Belmont.
After putting together an All-American career in Nashville, Clark went undrafted and had to prove himself again. His brilliant summer league play earned him the MVP of the Las Vegas league and a contract with the Utah Jazz.
“He beat a lot of the odds to get there,” Mealer said.
So far this season, Clark’s minutes have been limited. He’s played in just eight games, averaging 3 points in about 9 minutes a night. He showed off his offensive abilities last month, using the last four minutes of a blowout loss to Golden State to score 10 points and force the Warriors’ starters back onto the floor.
His coach said he’s seeing progress in practice.
“He’s getting better,” Corbin said. “He’s adjusting his game to where we are now. We have a few guys in his position and Gordon [Hayward] and Alec [Burks] will get most of the minutes there. But he’s working everyday to get better. … He’s going to be a good player for us.”
With his teammates headed to Miami last week, Clark and fellow rookie Rudy Gobert were sent west for an assignment with the D-League Bakersfield Jam. As the Jazz landed in the southern Florida warmth, Clark found himself in Reno.
“Reno was an eye-opener,” he said.
What he took away from his three-game D-League stint was this: “Motivation. Play hard and get back.”
Back with the Jazz again, Clark called being at FedExForum in front of his family and friends Monday night “a dream come true.” But for now it’s a dream without much rest.“It’s emotional of course, the ups and downs,” he said. “But that’s part of this league and part of the business. You have to earn your way. I want to do anything and everything possible to get out on the court and earn the trust of the coaching staff.”