Earl Clark on TalkBasket: “I’d fancy playing for Rick Pitino again, Calathes is still NBA material”

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino talking to Earl Clark during game vs West Virginia. Morgantown, WV 3/7/2009 CREDIT: Fred Vuich (Photo by Fred Vuich /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Earl Clark completed his first Euroleague season, playing for Budućnost VOLI Podgorica of the ABA League. The 31 year-old-forward participated in all but one game of his team, compiling 11.7 points on 38.8% three-point shooting and 3.7 rebounds.

Clark played college basketball under current Panathinaikos’s OPAP coach Rick Pitino for the University of Louisville from 2006 until 2009, without reaching the NCAA Final Four. He was drafted 14th overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 2009 NBA draft, the prelude to a six-year NBA career with as many teams. Apart from the 21 year-old Clark, in the 2009 draft there was a 20 year-old Greek-American point guard, recently graduated from the University of Florida. His name was Nick Calathes and back then, he not only shared the same agent with Clark, but also used to pay him a visit to his house in Florida.

Just a few days ago, Buducnost eliminated Cedevita Zagreb and will face Red Star Belgrade in the ABA League Finals for the second straight season. Earl Clark led the winners with 19 points.

TalkBasket.net had presented Earl Clark’s profile earlier in the season, but on the ocasion of the Montenegrins’ game against Panathinaikos at OAKA (an easy 87-67 for the hosts), where the veteran forward reunited with familiar faces once again, the chance to catch up with him seemed almost like an imperative.

Q: How was the game?

A: They started off well. In the first half, we were playing good basketball, but in the second we just didn’t have a good feel out there. Their guys started running the offense and we couldn’t get stops. We had a bad second half.

Q: Could this Euroleague season have turned out otherwise for Buducnost?

A: I’m not sure. A lot of these guys, including myself, worked hard and were playing the Euroleague for the first time. We made a lot of changes in coaches and players and it was a rough season. I know that a lot of guys took it very seriously. They came in, worked every day but sometimes other teams are better than us, top to bottom.

Q: What’s the future for you in Podgorica?

A: I’m not sure. I only have a one-year deal here. We’re playing in the ABA League Finals and are trying to stay positive. If we win the ABA League, Buducnost will be back in the Euroleague next year.

Q: Do you plan on staying in Europe until the end of your career?

A: I think Europe is a great place for basketball. Obviously, the rules are a little different, but there’s good competition and I feel that a lot of guys that play here can be in the NBA. I’m having fun.

Q: Would you fancy playing for Rick Pitino again?

A: Oh yeah, absolutely! I love him. He taught me many things, not just about basketball, but about life and becoming a man. I will always appreciate him for that.

Q: Do you keep in touch?

A: Yes, we usually talk every summer. I used to go up to Louisville to chat with him. I just sent him a “good luck” text for the tournament. We haven’t sat down in a long time, maybe dinner and joke about the old times, but in the future hopefully we will.

Q: What do you think that his lecagy will be, in Europe and the US?

A: He came in the middle of the season in a team that didn’t have his guys, his players. Now, he has a great group. He’s learning the different type of rules and different life over here. I think he’ll do great because he’s a great coach. He can get his guys play hard for him.

Q: What do you think Pitino will do in the end of the year?

A: He’s a Hall Of Famer, he’s got a lot of options. So, he’ll do whatever he feels like.

Q: What do you remember most vividly from your three-year stint at Louisville?

A: Just his attitude. We had to come and work every day. I made a lot of mistakes and he helped me through. He never gave up on me and he treated us as grown men. We made a mistake and paid for it. He taught us about life, saving money, being responsible and life lessons you can’t learn from anybody. If you didn’t work hard with him, you couldn’t play.

Q: I read something that you said back then, that he wouldn’t tolerate put-up shots and crazy things.

A: Yes, number one thing he wouldn’t have was contested shots. If you made a couple, he wouldn’t say too much, but if you missed them, he would definitely get mad at you. That was his thing: no contested shots!

Q: Do you think Nick Calathes is still NBA material?

A: Absolutely! I love the way Nick plays his game: offensively, he creates lots of things for his guys, he puts them in position to be their best self. Obviously, he can shoot the ball better. I think that if he starts to shoot the ball well, his chances (of going back in the NBA) would be better. He’s the heart of the team. I just saw him first-hand make a triple-double. He’s a great passer.