Clark, Covington join other OVC stars looking for shot at NBA

Friday, June 21, 2013 at 12:28am

As Ian Clark continued on his quest to impress potential employers, he bumped into a familiar face.

In Milwaukee, the Belmont star crossed paths with Murray State point guard Isaiah Canaan. A few days later, he ran into another former foe — Murray State forward Ed Daniel.

With the NBA Draft set for Thursday, the Ohio Valley Conference is making its presence known with as many as six players participating in pre-draft workouts.

“I think it is great for the league,” Clark said. “It shows no matter where you come from if you can play they’ll find you. It is up to you to make that impression.”

Clark and his OVC brethren are certainly trying their best.

With Canaan, the league figures to have a player drafted for the third straight year and fourth in five seasons. Canaan, who shared the OVC player of the year honors with Clark, has been projected to go anywhere from late in the first round to early in the second. The 6-foot-1 guard ranked sixth in the country with 21.8 points a game last year.

What remains to be seen is whether the OVC, which has its headquarters are in Brentwood, will have two players taken in the same draft for the first time since 2001. Along with Clark, Tennessee State forward Robert Covington is also hoping to hear his name called.

“Anything is possible,” Clark said. “I was told early after my college career was over I’m on the outside looking in [at the NBA Draft]. That is the only thing I’ve had on my mind. I try not to pay attention to a lot of other things. Nobody really knows until draft day. Of course, the dream is to hear your name called. But different guys have different roles and different paths.

“I’m just trying to play my way into the best situation I can.”

Clark, a 6-3 shooting guard who was also the league’s defensive player of the year, has worked out for the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers. Former Belmont backcourt mate Kerron Johnson, a 6-1 point guard who is hoping to land with an NBA Summer League team, has received interest from the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors.

In 1972, forward Joe Gaines became the first and only Belmont player drafted when he was taken by Portland in the sixth round. Clark understands his most likely route to the NBA is by signing as a free agent, working onto a summer league team and receiving an invite to training camp. Other opportunities could open up, including landing in the NBA Development League or playing overseas.

“It is kind of hard coming from college, everybody was one of the best players — if not the best player on the team,” the Memphis native said. “Then coming to this level in the NBA being able to play a role you have to know what you’re good at. I won’t be one of those guys scoring 25, 30 points a night. But I can be one of those guys who can play hard, compete, play defense and knock down shots when they’re available.”

Clark feasted on outside shots at Belmont, where he finished his career by leading the team to a sweep of the OVC regular-season and tournament championships and its third straight NCAA Tournament.

This past winter, on his way to finishing as Belmont’s all-time leading scorer in the NCAA era, he ranked third in the country with a 45.9 shooting percentage from 3-point range.

He usually attempts 25 3-pointers during workouts and averages 14-15 makes, draining as many as 17 on a “good day.” Clark, notoriously scrawny, has beefed up to 182 pounds and continues to work on dribble penetration in order to expand his repertoire.

“I have been getting great feedback,” he said. “All of them have been very supportive and positive with my shooting ability and being able to defend. It is something I just want to show I can do. I don’t want to come out and be out of my element and do things I’m not comfortable with. Of course, I’ve been working on a lot of things in the offseason, especially ball-handling. At the same time, you want to play inside yourself.”

Since the NBA Draft was narrowed to two rounds in 1989, center Carlos Rogers has been the only Tennessee State player drafted. He was taken 11th overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1994. The Tigers have had 21 players drafted but only four since 1980.

Covington hopes to be the next in line.

“I’m expecting it,” Covington said. “But I can’t let that disappoint me. I still can get in the NBA or it might not be my time. But I’m not even thinking that way. It is in my head that I’m going to get drafted because I know how bad I want this and how hard I’m going to work to get it.”

The 6-9 forward attended the NBA Draft combine in his hometown of Chicago last month. Since then he has worked out for Houston, the Detroit Pistons, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz. His former teammate, forward Kellen Thornton, also recently worked out with the Washington Wizards.

Covington was projected as a second-round pick in some early mock drafts after the season ended. His name has been less visible in recent weeks. A skilled big man with a good mid-range jumper, he was a three-time all-OVC selection for the Tigers and averaged 17 points and eight rebounds as a senior despite missing 10 games with a knee injury.

Slender at 215 pounds during the season, Covington recently said he hopes to gain 10 extra pounds and show he can be threat inside in addition to shooting outside (he made 40 3-pointers last year).

“He is very versatile,” TSU coach Travis Williams said. “He was a stat stuffer for us in a number of categories. I think the main thing for him is to continue to play hard and play with a motor. Teams want to see how hard you’re playing, who is coachable. He brings those different dynamics.”

Covington and Clark make no secret getting drafted would be a huge thrill and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

But being included in the mix has been just as rewarding.

“It’s shocking,” Clark said. “You dream about this opportunity but a lot of guys don’t get it. For me, coming from a smaller scene, being able to talk about this is big. For me to be able to go through it has been a good ride — a great ride.”