Suns News

First-Round Pick Chooses to Make a Name for Himself

Suns rookie forward Earl Clark is hard at work preparing for his first NBA season.
(Josh Greene/Suns.com)
By Josh Greene, Suns.com
Posted: Oct. 2, 2009

It wasn’t all that long ago that Earl Clark was hitting the classroom and going through his freshman orientation.

In fact, it was just a few hours ago.

In the midst of his first NBA training camp, the young Suns forward has been hard at work preparing for his rookie season with a daily dose of practices, shooting and defensive skill sets, sitting in on team meetings and learning the Suns’ system under the watchful eye of the coaching staff and new teammates.

“It's like I'm a freshman all over again,” Clark smiled. “It's just a learning experience. I have a lot of great guys here to look at every day, and say to myself, 'Why not work hard and achieve some of the things they have?' So, I'm just trying to work hard and play well.”

While playing in the NBA promises to be lights years away from suiting up for Louisville, where he averaged 10.6 ppg and 7 rpg over three seasons, the rookie forward has been given a crash course as to what to expect when the Suns’ season tips off later this month.

“There's a lot more running here and more defense,” Clark said. “but it's not a hard system to pick up. You shoot open shots and run. I'm just trying to find spots to do that and find my role with the team.”

Head Coach Alvin Gentry added, “The game is so much faster than in college and so much stronger. It's not until he actually experiences those things that he'll understand what we're talking about. Getting out on the floor and playing in the upcoming exhibitions will be key.”

Clark is counting on his defense and rebounding prowess to earn him a spot off the bench. As for his offense, he’s willing to leave the scoring up to his teammates.

“We have enough scorers,” the rookie said. “We have one of the best playmakers in the game and one of the best finishers. It's fun for me to play defense, so if that's what I need to do to get out there, I'll definitely do it.”

Gentry has told the youngster to emulate the court stylings of seven-time All-Star Grant Hill, whose game the rookie is already well aware of thanks to the 16-year veteran’s ability to play smart.

“Grant is an all-around player,” Clark said. “He can hurt you so many ways. He can shoot, he gets to the basket. He's a great teammate. I can see why coach wants me to pattern myself after a guy like Grant. If I could be that good one day, it would be a blessing.

“Grant’s told me to keep shooting. When I miss a shot, he just tells me it'll come. It'll take time. He's just a real positive guy. You've got to listen to player like him. Veterans like Grant make you want to take your game to another level.”

Gentry has been impressed with his new forward’s defense during training camp, as well as his work ethic that has included early arrivals and extra shooting.

“Earl has played well,” the Suns head coach said. “It's a learning process for him. He’s a real versatile player, because of his size at the three or four. I’ve been really surprised by his good job on post defense, and he has the ability to slip out to switch out on a guard and keep him out front. That could be huge for us. That's one of those areas where we have to get better out on the floor. I see him as a guy who, if he continues to improve, could be that guy for us sometimes.”

Averaging 11.3 ppg and 7 rpg for the Suns in July’s Summer League, Clark knows it will take time to make his ideal impact on the squad. He’s just shooting for sooner, rather than later.

“I’m just trying to find my way,” he said. “It's a blessing to be here, but I'm not satisfied about where I'm at right now personally. It's not intimidating to be around the veterans. It just makes you want to take your game to another level. It's just a process, and I'm going through it right now.”

And as for hitting the classroom to talk strategy with his teammates and coaching staff or to watch game film?

“Now, that’s the kind of class I can get into,” he smiled.

Purple (and Orange) Haze

Suns training camp is more than enduring two-a-day practices. It’s also the annual chance to indoctrinate the rookies as to their status on the team – in a good-natured way, of course.

Rookies Earl Clark, Taylor Griffin and Raymond Sikes went incognito to provide the dinner entertainment at the players-only meal Thursday night.

“We went through a little initiation,” Clark said. “I had on a banana suit. Taylor was a cheeseburger. Sykes was a grape. I'm tall, so my costume sort of slimmed me out, but Taylor and Sykes had it worse. My suit was swagger-rific.

“If you go in with an attitude, the guys will hurt you even more. They're just laughing with you. You just be a good sport about it.”

Gentry Talks “Lightning Lou”

“Lou has really worked hard to improve his perimeter shot,” said the Suns head coach about Amundson. “That will be a huge factor for him, if he can step out on the floor and hit an 18- or 20 foot shot. The way he plays for us and the energy he brings, that will probably give him a little more playing time.

“He has more confidence shooting the ball out on the floor, and when you do that, your free throw shooting usually improves. We'll see how it works out as the season goes and gets to the line in game situations. He'll shoot them better this year.”

Hill Talks Nash

“He's a guy who can see things develop,” said Hill about the Suns’ playmaker. “If you make a cut, you'll be open and most of the time, he'll get you the ball. He's willing to make those plays. The longer you play together, you develop a chemistry over time -- an understanding of each other, knowing he's going to do something, knowing when to move and when to cut, when to get out of the way and vice versa. I've played alongside a lot of really good people, but I've never played with a guy who can make that little cut, and when a player's not looking, thread that needle and get that pass to you. He sees the court and is willing to gamble to make the play. Some guys are more concerned about their turnovers, but he's willing to take a chance. Because of that, when he does, you want to make sure you finish.”

Choosing Sides

Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage at the University of San Diego’s Jenny Craig Pavilion could be decided by the luck of the draw. Assistant coaches Dan Majerle and Igor Kokoskov will combine forces to go up against Bill Cartwright and John Shumate’s team, with a player draft expected to finalize the rosters sometime Friday evening.