Tom Smart, Deseret News
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Ian Clark received a paid trip home for the holidays. He got to spend extended time with friends and family members. He even had a chance to eat at some of his favorite restaurants.
“It’s a dream come true to come here and play in front of your family and friends in the place that you grew up. It’s very exciting,” Clark said. “It’s good to come home for the holidays, of course. A lot of guys don’t get a Christmas at home with their family.”
Although he got to do a lot of things in Memphis, one thing the Jazz rookie didn’t get was an opportunity to play in his hometown for the first time as a pro.
Clark, who’s previously played at the FedEx Forum in high school and college, and forward Mike Harris were both made inactive for the Jazz’s game against the Grizzlies. The NBA only allows teams to dress 13 players, so two guys have to sit out every night for the Jazz.
“It’s hard to do it at this level because of where we are,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said when asked about allowing Clark to dress in his hometown.
That just gives Clark one more thing to shoot for in his new job.
He’s had a lot of that since finishing up his college career at Belmont last spring.
First, he had to prove to NBA teams that he belonged in the league after going undrafted. Clark accomplished that with his standout summer-league play in Orlando and Las Vegas, where he was named MVP.
Since signing a deal with the Jazz this summer, Clark has been trying to work his way into the rotation. He’s not quite there yet, which is why he and fellow rookie Rudy Gobert were sent to the D-League for an assignment last week.
“It’s emotional, of course. Up and down, but I think it’s part of this league, part of this business, you’ve got to earn your way,” Clark said. “I just want to do anything and everything possible to make sure I’m ready to get out here on the court and earn trust from the coaching staff.”
Though he’s only played in eight NBA games so far, that is happening.
“He’s working every day to get better,” Corbin said. “He’s a really great fellow to have on the team and he’s going to be a good player for us.”
Perhaps Clark will get to dress when the Jazz return to Memphis on March 19. The shooting guard said he’s trying to only worry about what he can control.
“If,” he said, “I get in there and work and do the best job that I can, I think everything else will fall into place.”
Clark admitted it was tough to get the D-League assignment to play for the Bakersfield Jam when his teammates were leaving to Miami to begin a five-game road trip. He flew to Nevada for a game a week ago Sunday.
“Reno was eye-opening,” he said. “I’d never been there before. It was cold. It was kind of gloomy.”
Clark played more in three games with the Jam (115 minutes) than he has in eight NBA appearances (70 minutes) this season. He averaged 12.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists with Bakersfield before he and Gobert rejoined Utah before Saturday’s game in Charlotte.
Clark said it was good to get back into a rhythm of playing instead of just practicing.
“Overall,” he said, “you just feel better.”
Except when you think about being in the D-League instead of the NBA.
That gave Clark a sharp focus during his short Bakersfield stay.
“Motivation, motivation,” he said. “Play hard and get back.”
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