Guys that might creep into the first round think they’ll be in the lottery. Guys that will be lucky to be taken in the second round are sure they’re first-rounders.
Which makes a guy like Rotnei Clarke so refreshing. Here’s a gifted basketball player utterly unafraid to dream with his eyes open.
“I’m probably not going to get drafted,” said the former Butler shooting star after working out for the Pacers Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I want to go whatever route I have to go to get to the level I want to be at and fulfill my dream.
“If that’s going overseas for a couple of years and then possibly making a spot in the NBA like Gary Neal (of San Antonio), guys that can shoot the ball or kind of like a combo guy that teams are going to give a chance. If somebody takes a chance on me, takes a risk, I think I could help a lot.”
The odds, at least in next week’s NBA Draft, are stacked squarely against Clarke. This is the time of year when scouts fall in love with data, with measurables, with height, wingspan, vertical leap, agility – things you can quantify with a stopwatch or yardstick.
Clarke is not one of those guys.
By the NBA book, he’s too short (5-11) to be a shooting guard, too slow to be a point guard, not quick enough to create shots for himself or his teammates, too old (he turns 24 next month) to have that magical, mystical quality known as upside.
Here’s what ESPN.com’s NBA Draft Tracker offered in terms of analysis:
“Clarke is clearly a gifted shooter and scorer, but given his age, lack of size and athletic ability, it’s unlikely he’ll be drafted.”
And that was the only site I could find that even ranked him among the top 100 draft prospects (he checked in at No. 98). Neither NBADraft.net nor DraftExpress.com had him ranked in their respective top 100s.
But here’s the thing about Clarke: if there isn’t a place in professional basketball somewhere for this guy, the problem is with the sport, not the player.
How do you quantify savvy? What spreadsheet reflects heart? I know all the things he is not, but I also know what he is: one of the deadliest shot-makers in the world.
The NBA is full of guys that can run and dunk. Find me a team that thinks it has enough shooters.
Clarke aspires to be a J.J. Redick type, a combo guard that can stretch the defense. Redick, however, stands 6-4 and still is considered a bit under-sized.
“I don’t lack any confidence,” Clarke said. “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 I have the ability to play in this league.
“I’m a realist. I’m not going to say I’m going to go out and be a starter or play a significant amount of minutes, but I do believe 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 I have a role in this league.”
Clarke is trying to move the NBA needle with little success. Though still limited by a shoulder injury sustained in his final game at Butler, he performed well in the Portsmouth Invitational in April, averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 assists.
“It was sore for a long time,” Clarke said. “I couldn’t do a lot of lifting at first, which bothered me because I wanted to get a lot stronger in my upper body. I sat out for a while and did some light shooting and ball-handling stuff. Finally getting it back to strength. …
“It’s definitely not an excuse. I didn’t want to say anything about it (at Portsmouth) because I didn’t want it to be an excuse but it was bothering me, especially on the second and third day, was really stiff going into those games. I played well but I definitely could’ve played better.”
In his only other NBA workout, for the Wizards, he showed the ability to handle the ball, run an offense and make plays – and also happened to shoot it like, well, like Rotnei Clarke.
He wasn’t as hot in front of the Pacers coaches and scouts, but he did demonstrate confidence in his shoulder with an impressive dunk.
Clarke hopes to line up a couple more workouts before the draft but he’s not exactly a hot commodity. His path to the NBA may begin in a summer league or two, wind through Europe and hopefully, eventually, maybe lead back to the league.
“I think everybody at some point in their life is going to face some adversity,” he said. “It’s really about you face the adversity and come out of it. Are people going to lay down when facing a challenge or are they going to fight?”
You know what Clarke’s going to do. He’s going to take his best shot.