INDIANAPOLIS – A few years ago, he might have seen himself in the same position as he was in Monday.
It’s mid-June following his senior season in college and Rotnei Clarke is working out for the Indiana Pacers in hopes of making a good enough impression to be drafted or perhaps receive an invite to camp in either the summer or the fall.
“It would be a dream come true,” said Clarke of getting the chance to play in the NBA, the same goal he’s had most of his basketball career.
But over the past two years getting to this point has involved a multitude of changes and injuries that took the Oklahoma native’s path from the SEC to the Atlantic 10 and from Little Rock to Indianapolis. A transfer to Butler cost Clarke to wait nearly two years to play and in one senior season at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the guard had to deal with a frightening injury which nearly ended his season.
Still Clarke says he wouldn’t have changed his path to his workout for the NBA Draft, convinced the whirlwind of events the past two years have made him better both on and off the court.
“It helped me out a ton as a basketball player and helped me out as a person,” said Clarke of his move to Butler for his senior season. “I went through a lot of adversity, making changes but I sat down and talked to coach (Brad Stevens) after the season, I wouldn’t have changed the decision for anything in the world. I don’t regret any of it. Had a great time, had a great experience with the best staff in my mind in the country at the college level.
“Had a lot of great teammates and had a lot of great experiences.”
They came after a lot of waiting. Clarke was a consistent starter for Arkansas during his first three years of his college career and led the Razorbacks in scoring his junior season with 15.1 points a game. But following the firing of head coach John Pelphrey, Clarke made the decision to transfer to Butler and sit out the 2011-2012 season.
When he finally got the chance to play Clarke immediately was a force from the outside-hitting a game-winning three-pointer against Marquette in the Maui Invitational-and led the Bulldogs in scoring going into Butler’s game at Dayton on January 12th. In that contest Clarke injured his neck when he was hit in the back going up for a lay up and went head first into the basketball support and had to be taken off the floor on a stretcher.
He escaped serious injury as he was diagnosed with a severe neck sprain but had to miss the Bulldogs next three games. Clarke remained unfazed and eventually led Butler in scoring with 16.9 points a game and hit 40 percent of the three-pointers he took for the season in helping the Bulldogs to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
In two years Clarke saw what he went through as part of a well-rounded education in the game of basketball and in life as well.
“Going through adversity like that like I did, sitting out that one year, it helped me in a lot of areas,” said Clarke when asked how the experience made him a better person. “It made me realize basketball wasn’t the only thing I had. I have my faith which was important to me and I grew as a person in that area.
“Just being social and meeting people around campus that became friends and just doing a lot of things that didn’t involve basketball but there was a lot on the court too.”
Being able to makes the best out of changes and problems that came about could be an asset to NBA teams taking a look at Clarke over the next few weeks. At the moment the guard is a longshot to be taken in the draft on July 27th but believes that his skills as a shooter plus his ability to work through adversity the past two years could spark some interest.
“I think everybody at some point is going to face some adversity. It’s really all about how you face that adversity, how you come out of it,” said Clarke. “People are going to lay down and face some adversity and go through some challenges, some hard times or people are going to fight and I think that’s important to a lot of these guys.”
Despite some low projections, Clarke believes he can be an important part of an NBA team.
“I don’t lack any confidence. I’m a very humble person, I don’t like to talk a lot about myself. But I do believe I have the confidence and the ability to play in this league,” said Clarke. “I’m a realist. I’m not going to go out and say I’m going to be a starter or I’m going to play a significant amount of minutes.
“But I do believe that I have an 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 or one minute. Being a third guy on the bench cheering my teammates on. Whatever it is, I think I have a role in this league.”
The last two years may prove a testament to that.