Growing Up ... Earl Clark

December 30, 2013
Earl Clark
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images

First-year Cavalier Earl Clark is one of the squad’s steadiest performers. Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, the fifth-year forward simply goes about his blue-collar business and gets the job done on the floor.

Shooting just over 44 percent from beyond the arc, Clark – who inked a free agent deal with Cleveland this past July – has been the Wine and Gold’s top three-point marksman this season. And his length and versatility on the frontline allows him to guard multiple positions.

The soft-spoken former Louisville standout isn’t one of the more vociferous members of the Cavaliers, but we still managed to get Earl to open up about his early days, playing ball on the blacktops in Plainfield, New Jersey in today’s installment of Growing Up …

I come from a … pretty athletic family. My father, he played college ball at Wagner-St. Peter’s. My sister, she played high school ball. My brother did, too. We all played basketball.

When I started growing and getting better … my dad started to duck and dodge me. We used to play HORSE. Instead of playing one-on-one, he was like: ‘Let’s play HORSE.’ You know how old men always have a really nice set shot? He had that.

My dad introduced me … to the game of basketball. He never forced me to play.

But he hated … if I cried after I lost a game. If I was a sore loser, he didn’t like that. So he kind of taught me good sportsmanship and to not complain so much after a loss.

I also played … football for a few years. Lot of kids in the neighborhood played Pop Warner football. I had a lot of fun; I made a lot of friends.

But in Jersey, in Pop Warner … they practice too much in the summer. And that’s when my friends and everybody in the neighborhood all played hoops.

So I always had to leave … the court to go to football practice.

And then, one day … I just never went back. I missed basketball too much.

I had my biggest growth spurt … over one summer, from eighth grade to ninth grade. I was probably 5-10, 5-11, and I started growing, having some growing pains.

I couldn’t play … in middle school; they thought I had bad knees. I had to wear these casts.

And then, in the summer … of 9th grade, I grew to 6-6, and I just kept going after that. My knees started feeling better. I kept growing, but my body didn’t feel bad. And I grew real fast.

Even when I was real young … I always felt like I was going to be a pro; I had a dream when I was five years old. And I worked hard, I kept playing and I was the best in my neighborhood.

There was only one guy … who could beat me. He was a few years older than me, and we’d stay up at night and play under the lights. He had a portable basket and we’d move it down into the street under the street light and we’d play all night.

His name was … Larry DiCosi – I’m not sure if that’s how you spell it – but he was like a quick guard with a lot of handle. He was big, strong, athletic. He was bouncy. And he used to take it to me every night under the street light!

Finally … after a few years, I met up with him. He moved away from the block and he came back one day – I was coming home from high school – and I told him: ‘We’re gonna play right now. You can’t beat me anymore.’

So I basically … blew him out. But we still laugh and talk about it. And I thanked him because he made me real competitive, every night, just playing. He taught me a lot and it was fun playing against him.

Now, he’s probably at home watching … Cavs games, telling his buddy’s: ‘I used to beat that guy’s (butt).’ But that’s the kind of guy he is – he’s always talking trash.

I went to a regular … high school, not a powerhouse – Rahway High School. And we won a bunch of games, but we always lost when we played the teams that recruited.

But I was always ahead of the pack … and once I was in high school, I started to get recruited and coaches started coming to my school and my house – and that’s when reality hit that I could really get an education and then maybe one day get paid to play professionally.

I really didn’t have … a great coach in school because I wanted to go to public school with my friends.

I used to have fights … with my dad. He’d say: ‘You need to go to St. Pat’s or St. Benedict’s.’ But I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to be different. I wanted to show people that you can make it coming out of a regular public school.

My best coach coming up … was Coach Pitino at Louisville.He taught me how to work hard the right way. He taught discipline, how to stay out of trouble and how to keep fighting. He taught me that it’s a dog-eat-dog world and it’s going to be hard and most guys don’t make it in the league.

Coach P was really … tough on me, but it was the tough love that helped me to be where I am today. This being my fifth year in the NBA and me being somewhat successful, I give Coach Pitino the credit for that.

I remember my first dunk … and I think I think it was during recess at Maxson Middle School in Plainfield.

In eighth grade, we’d go out … for recess and we’d try to dunk or at least grab the rim. Every day, that’s all we’d do – grab it, hang on it.

One day, we were just doing our daily routine – before the bell rang, we’d start grabbing the rim and handing on it. And one my friends threw me a lob and I threw it down. And everybody was telling me: ‘Do it again! Do it again!’ I was pretty surprised myself!

I threw that first one down … right before the bell, and the whole schoolyard went nuts.

After that … it just came natural. And I wanted to do it every time.