By Dan Savage
February 15, 2012
Die-hard fans clamor for him to get more playing time, while casual observers barely know his name.
When it comes to Earl Clark, public perception is all over the map, similar to his minutes on the court.
In a span of three games, the Magic forward has gone from seeing no action against Milwaukee to being an integral part of Orlando’s commanding victory over Minnesota to then taking an aggressive defensive role in his team’s win against Philadelphia.
Yet even though his situation is constantly changing, Clark remains grounded and focused on the task at hand.
“I just try to come in and get as much work done as I can; after practice, before practice to try to stay ready,” he explained.
It’s not just before and after practice. Clark has also been known to put up additional shots and complete extra workout sessions before and after games.
Prior to every contest, he also arrives early so he can check out the defensive assignments and rotations that are posted in the team’s locker room.
While some players get discouraged when they’re relegated to the pine, Clark attempts to keep his head in the game, always remaining prepared for when his number is called.
“When you’re on the bench, you have to focus in on the plays,” he said. “Any guy that I’m going to guard or that coach is going to put me on, I try to sit there and see what they like to do and what their weaknesses are.”
This season that mindset has paid off.
In the Magic’s triumph over the Timberwolves, Clark efficiently racked up eight points, five rebounds and two blocks. He followed that with a staunch defensive effort to go along with five rebounds in just nine minutes of action against the Sixers.
“I’m really, really happy with Earl,” Van Gundy said. “Anytime a guy can’t play for a while and come in and give you a real good effort that’s something I’ve always really appreciated as a coach in this league. It’s not easy to do.”
Early in his career with Orlando, Clark fell into a trap that most players in his position do, being victimized by trying to do too much when he stepped on the court. It occasionally resulted in a poor shot selection, such as rushed long-range jumpers early in the shot clock.
But the Louisville product is becoming more and more comfortable making his defensive stamp on the game and letting offense come to him rather than searching for it.
“It’s not like they’re calling plays for me on the offensive end,” Clark said. “My role has to be defense.”
With a stretch of four games in five days looming on Orlando’s schedule, Van Gundy said he expects Clark’s minutes to increase in upcoming games.
And with the way he’s been prepared so far this season, you can expect that Clark will be more than ready for the opportunity.
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