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Clarke is Realistic, But Believes He Has a Role

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

June 17, 2013

Rotnei Clarke spent the first 22 years of his life down south, in Oklahoma and then Arkansas, where he played his first three years of college ball. After living in Indianapolis for the last two years, he now calls it home. The shooting guard, who graduated from Butler University in May, is continuing to chase his dream – to play professionally in the NBA.

On Monday, he worked out for the Pacers. It was his second pre-draft workout and he’s hoping for one or two more before the end of the week. The draft, held in Brooklyn, New York, is on Thursday, June 27.

“It’s awesome,” Clarke said of his opportunity. “I dreamed about this being a little kid. It’s what I’ve worked for my whole life. Being able to come in here and practice in the Pacers facility and go some places that I have like Washington D.C. and work out for the Wizards, all your hard work pays off and you get these opportunities is pretty special. It’s a blessing.”

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Clarke went through the usual tests on Monday before doing drills and exercises with the five other NBA hopefuls – Troy Daniels, Augusto Lima, Amath M’Baye, Glen Rice Jr., and Durand Scott. He felt that he could have shot much better, something he did well in his workout with the Wizards a couple weeks ago. Clarke’s right shoulder, which he injured during Butler’s NCAA tournament run, is feeling a lot better.

“I surprised myself today,” he said. “I actually went off one foot and dunked it for the first time in a while. Usually I would not be able to do that because I’m a little tentative with my shoulder and it’s still a little sore after every workout but it’s getting a lot better.”

Since Butler’s season-ending loss to Marquette in the round of 32, Clarke has been in Indianapolis and worked out at St. Vincent Sports Performance with his former teammate, Andrew Smith, among others. They’ve discussed preparations for workouts and Clarke even received some hints from Smith, who worked out at Bankers Life Fieldhouse last Friday.

“I think Andrew Smith and I have grown to be closer friends since we’ve graduated,” said Clarke. “We’re going through the same program at St. Vincent. We see each other every morning and we talk about our experiences.”

Clarke also praised Butler coach Brad Stevens for all his guidance and support while both a student and still today.

“He’s a dream come true when you talk about him being your coach as a student-athlete,” he said. “He’s always there for you. He’s always got his office door open. I could text him at 11:30 at night and he would respond back to me within five minutes.

It’s cool to have a guy like that, that you know is on your side and that’s willing to fight for you.”

The one big knock on Clarke’s game is his height, something he obviously has no control over. Butler listed him right at 6-foot. Also weighing 184 pounds, he’s been told to “stiffen up” and prove that he can defend opponents that’ll try to take advantage of the height differential.

Interested teams will clearly be after Clarke’s shot, as he’s one of the purest shooters available. He finished high school as the all-time leading scorer in Oklahoma history. He made 115 3-pointers during his senior season at Butler, good for second in school history. He connected on 40.8 percent of his attempts from long range and 88.6 percent of his foul shots. In addition to his strong work ethic and sweet stroke, Clarke is trying to demonstrate his ball handling skills and ability to run the point.

During this process, which can be both thrilling and nerve-racking, Clarke has remained realistic about his chances. He knows that he’s not on any mock drafts and his chance of hearing his name called on June 27 is slim.

“I don’t lack any confidence,” he said. “I’m a very humble person. I don’t like to talk a lot about myself, but I do believe that I have the confidence and I have the ability to play in this league.

“Realizing that I’m probably not going to get drafted, I want to go whatever route I have to go to get to the level I want to be at and fulfill my dream. Even if that’s going overseas for a couple years and then possibly making a spot in the NBA. There’s been guys like Gary Neal.”

Neal, who is in his third season with the San Antonio Spurs, is an interesting comparison. When no team drafted him in 2007, he went overseas for three years to gain professional experience while earning good money. Then, in 2010, the Spurs signed Neal to a three-year deal. Like Clarke, Neal’s what many call a combo guard, an excellent shooter who has the ability to play the point.

Clarke, 23, has discussed the possibility of playing in the NBA’s Developmental League with his agent, Doug Neustadt. He is willing to entertain that idea, but only if he has a chance to be called up relatively soon. Otherwise, Clarke would prefer to go overseas and make a pretty good amount of money for a couple years, at least until a team is ready to take a chance on him. Just as Neal did.

“I’m a realist,” said Clarke. “I’m not going to go out and say I’m going to be a starter or I’ll play a significant amount of minutes. But I do believe that I have the ability to come in and knock down shots and do things that a lot of people think I can’t. Whether it be for two minutes, one minute, being the third guy on the bench cheering my teammates on.

“Whatever it is, I think that I have a role in this league.”

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