Suns Select Earl Clark With the No. 14 Pick

by Jeramie McPeek
VP, Digital
By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: July 25, 2009

Louisville forward Earl Clark wasn’t taken aback that the Suns selected him with the No. 14 overall pick in Thursday’s 2009 NBA Draft, but he was surprised that he wouldn’t be sporting his patented No. 5 jersey once he arrived in Phoenix.

No, that number was retired in honor of Dick Van Arsdale, who helped put the organization on the map over 40 years ago. Although Clark won’t rock the same number as Van Arsdale, the front office brass hopes - like the “Original Sun” once did - that he can help propel the franchise back into the upper echelon of NBA teams.

In fact, the Suns’ draft strategy centered on the 6-10, 225-pound forward. With all of the maneuvering occurring amongst other teams in the draft, the Suns were looking to trade the No. 14 pick or move back in the draft if the player they desired wasn’t there.

That player was Earl Clark.

But since Clark was available, Phoenix continued as planned, securing the Third Team All-Big East performer with the last pick in the lottery. The Suns’ front office, knowing that it didn’t have a first round selection next season, decided that it was going to lean towards choosing a player with a little more upside this year.

President of Basketball Operations and GM Steve Kerr knew that there were going to be some solid pros in this draft, but Kerr believed that Clark could have a higher ceiling than other players chosen just before and after him.

“If you look at the big picture and the full package offensively he can put the ball on the floor a couple of times and make a play,” Kerr said. “He can already pick-and-pop and he can really run the floor.”

Clark averaged 14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game during his junior season. He led Louisville in both scoring and rebounding, despite the squad possessing fellow first-round draft pick Terrence Williams.

“He has the potential to be a playmaker,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “He can handle the ball and do some things. He can make plays and in our style we like our big guys to be able to make plays.”

At times this season, one could watch a Louisville game and see Clark rebound the ball off of the defensive glass and take it coast-to-coast for a bucket. And while that offensive versatility impressed the Suns’ scouts, it was his defensive adaptability that sealed the deal for them.

“That was the most appealing thing about Earl for us,” Kerr said. “He’s 6-10, he moves his feet very well and what we kept noticing in the tape and when we watched him live was his activity defensively. (Louisville coach) Rick Pitino did a great job with him.”

Kerr brought up the necessity of possessing players that can guard “hybrid power forwards” like Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki. The Suns GM believed that every team should have a player on its roster that can defend power forwards that can go inside and outside.

But as much as they favored Clark, the Suns wanted to make sure they got this pick right. They brought in the former McDonald’s All-American for two workouts, the latest being this past Saturday.

“I could see it from their expressions and their body language that they really liked my game but it seemed like everywhere I went it was like that,” Clark said. “I think their style of play fits me best because I can run the floor open offense I don’t think a lot of people can guard me in the open court. And for my size and position I think I can guard a lot of different players and positions.”

Kerr readdressed his previous statements on how the 14th pick would initially have a difficult time trying breaking into the rotation. His expectations are that Clark just adds versatility and depth to the roster in the beginning.

“He’s not beating out Jared Dudley or Louis Amundson,” Kerr said. “If he is, he’s going to be really good. We can bring him up the right way and we don’t have to have him play.”

That suits Clark just fine. The New Jersey-native is just excited to be in the league.

Celebrating the draft from his home in Plainfield with 25 people that included friends and family, Clark talked unselfishly about doing whatever his new coach and team needed.

“I’m just going to come in with a good head on my shoulders and play hard every day,” he said. “I’m just excited about playing with Steve Nash and being in the NBA.”

As for having to give up the No. 5, the athletic post player will have to come up with a solution.

“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s crazy. I thought I was good all the way.”

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