(photo: Ben McKeown)
Byrd Cage = BC
Ian Clark = Ian
Author’s Note: Honestly, I’ve wanted to interview Ian for a while now. Unfortunately, I can be a sort of superstitious guy. Ian was so EN FUEGO the majority of the season that I was legitimately worried I would throw him off by interviewing him. So I didn’t until yesterday when I knew the OVC Championship Trophy was resting safely on the Blvd. The Byrd Cage is really going to miss watching this guy ball, so I tried to cover most of the bases. Enjoy.
BC: Let’s start out way back. You were recruited by Lipscomb, Davidson, and MTSU [none of which are going to the tournament this year I might add] and you chose Belmont. You’ve mentioned before that Coach Byrd was one of the reasons you chose Belmont. Other than his taking teams to the NCAA tournament, what stood out to you about him while he recruited you?
Ian: His dedication and that he cared for his players. My AAU team played a tournament in Florida and he was at all of my games. So I talked to him a lot and he came to my school and sat down and talked to me. I knew he was a quality guy, a great coach, and a great person. So those factors played a big part in me making my decision – on top of him taking his teams to the NCAA tournament.
BC: You went to high school in Memphis and Kerron came up in Huntsville. Had you guys seen each other play prior to coming to Belmont?
Ian: No we hadn’t. I had heard of him once and it was because he had played a team from Memphis with a bunch of guys that I know that I played AAU ball with. After they played him they told me that [he had also] committed to Belmont. So some of the guys called me and told me about him and how they played him and that he was really good. That was the only time I had heard of him before – other than being on campus with him.
BC: This year you took your three point shooting to the next level. What exactly did you do in the off season to improve your 3pt shot? I know you worked on your jumper but how were you able to improve your 3pt shot?
Ian: I think it was just being more confident in it. I’ve always been classified as a shooter but this year, just having the confidence in myself to shoot a little more and take a bigger role on the team – just being a Senior Leader and Senior Captain. Those other guys that were before us, like last year, Drew Hanlen was the guy taking those shots. The year before that it was Jordan Campbell. This year I just had to step it up and do whatever it takes to help the team. I think that’s one of the strongest assets that I bring to the team.
BC: Well I was really hoping you were going to tell me you went to one of Drew Hanlen’s Pure Sweat camps.
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Ian: Yeah I have.
BC: Well, we’re pretty goofy, so we wanted to ask you some fun stuff here. We follow you all on twitter . . . what’s the deal with the entire Belmont team and Krispy Kreme donuts? I mean c’mon they aren’t THAT good.
Ian: Man. They are to us. They are to us. There is a 24 hour one over here on Thompson Lane. We go all the time. It’s more spur of the moment when we’re all around each other. No matter what time of the day or night it is, we get up and go. A lot of guys I know, including myself. Love it. Can’t stay away from it.
BC: Well Belmont really dropped the ball not getting you guys a Krispy Kreme Sponsorship or something.
Ian: Man. Exactly.
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BC: In the past few years I’ve really loved watching you develop your own sort of soft spoken leadership style. You seem almost always even-keeled, you encourage guys when they make a mistake, you pat guys’ heads when they’re maybe in their own head a little too much – what sort of legacy do you hope you’re leaving for guys like JJ, Reece, and Blake who will have to step up as leaders next year?
Ian: I want to leave a winning legacy. Of course, everyone wants to win games, but it’s a way to do things. I’ve been taught, the four years that I’ve been here, how to do them the right way. I know those guys will continue to be taught that way from the coaching staff. I’ve always tried to reinforce that and encourage my teammates and to be someone that they can count on, out on the court. That’s what I want those guys to keep doing.
There’s going to be hard times – not everything is going to be perfect. And I’m subject to that – I’m not perfect – I’m not saying it like that. I just try to do my best and not let it show and make sure – especially being in that leadership role. Guys look at you and how you respond through adversity and everything. I want them to know that the spotlight is going to be on them now. They’re the older guys on the team now. They’re the leaders. They should embrace that role.
BC: I talked to Kerron earlier this year and he talked about how when he first came on the team, Jordan Campbell was kind of that guy for him. Was Jordan the same to you?
Ian: My freshman year it was Keaton Belcher. The next year it was Jordan. Last year it was Drew. I still contact those guys today. Just because of the relationship we built together over the years.
BC: From a fan’s perspective it’s been cool to see how players from past teams come and support the guys they handed the program over to.
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BC: Talk to me about the Ohio game. Was that the best home environment you’ve played in here at Belmont?
Ian: Definitely . . . non-Lipscomb related, I guess. Those were some tough games my freshman and sophomore year – all of them of course you’re going to have a good crowd, just because it’s Lipscomb. But I think that Ohio game surpasses those a little bit just because of the importance of the game and ESPN being here and all the fans showing up. It was a great environment. They recognized how big of a game it was so they showed up to be a part of it.
BC: Well, back to that Ohio game. Talk about what happened with your knee on the breakaway layup when you hit the deck.
Ian: I was told I hyper-extended it somehow. I was coming down the court and as soon as I took off I thought I heard it pop or snap – I’m glad it didn’t – but that’s what it felt like. As soon as I went up I knew there was something wrong. It bothered me a lot early. Then I went back to the locker room and the doctors came and it was easing up after that. I’m glad it wasn’t anything serious, but it was a little scary.
BC: Well you had us scared – you never hit the floor.
Ian: Yeah it scared me a lot. So I’m glad everything was ok. It was just a hyper-extension. I’ve been bothered with tendonitis for three years.
BC: That night you became Belmont’s all time leading scorer. Did you know that, when you were shooting those last free throws that you were on the verge of breaking the record?
Ian: I found out when I went to the free throw line.[Laughs]
BC: [Laughs. Possibly, TOO loud] WHO TOLD YOU?
Ian: I kind of noticed with the crowd. We were up a certain number of points. I’m not sure how many but they were still kind of excited and I was just wondering why. So I kind of looked around and out of the corner of my eye I saw Keaton Belcher holding that sign up.
He had mentioned a couple things about it. He’s been keeping up with it for a long time through the season. I went to the game not really realizing it. So, I went to the free throw line and then I saw how excited everyone was, then I saw the sign and I was like, “Oh, okay . . .” I was really glad I made those free throws cause if I missed it would have been bad. [laughs]
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BC: Let’s talk OVC championship – did LeAnn Womack actually sing “I hope you Dance” to pump you guys up before the game? How bizarre was that?
Ian: [Long silence] Who now?
BC: I guess not. I read that on some blog.
Ian: Sang to us in the locker room?
BC: YES. That’s what I read man!
Ian: Uh. No. [laughs]
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BC: In both Murray games it seemed that Isaiah was giving you a ton of lip on the court. What was he saying to you in that first game that seemed to get under your skin?
Ian: You know, he was talking a little trash about us being new in the conference and everything and how it wasn’t going to be easy for us to come in there and run over people. Obviously, he had some excitement built up in him just because we were the Kings of the conference coming into that game.
BC: I mean I had never seen you come out of character like that so I was thinking Isaiah must be [bringing it]. Obviously, you were in the heat of the moment as well.
Ian: A lot of things don’t get me out of character. You can say a lot of things and it doesn’t bother me but it got to the point where things started to get a little disrespectful.
BC: What about in the OVC Championship game? Was he talking the same stuff?
Ian: Less in the championship game.
BC: Also, during both Murray games, Stacy Wilson seemed to have your number defensively. Was he the toughest person that guarded you all year?
Ian: Not the toughest. I would say he took it more to heart. I think one of the toughest defenses we went up against this year was the “Box and 1” during the Tennessee Tech game here at Belmont – the whole game. The whole game they just tried to take me out. Murray played more man to man it was just more of a denial on my part. He (Stacy) kind of took it as his mission – I’m pretty sure he talked to his coaching staff – and took it as his mission to try and not let me touch it. Or for me to get as few touches as possible and to make every shot hard.
[Editor’s Note: case and point check Stacy on Ian here on that infamous last play the end of the game. Belmont could not run the play Rick called because Ian couldn’t get the initial touch - luckily it worked out anyway . . .]
I mean it’s what you do. We talk about it with the players that we play – to limit their touches. Early, there [@ Murray] it was kind of a factor and then through the flow of the game I started to get more comfortable. Then in the championship game, I wouldn’t say – I mean it was definitely harder to get in a flow and at the same time I wasn’t going to force anything just to make it [the game] between me and [Stacy] it didn’t make sense. It was more of ‘take what’s given to me’ and everything else will pan out. Other people stepped up and made plays so it really wasn’t a factor – me having to get my shots off or score as much.
BC: I wasn’t paying close enough attention but people were saying he was face guarding you a lot both games. Is it tougher for you obviously when guys are doing that or does it bother you when guys play like that?
IC: It doesn’t bother me. Of course it’s definitely harder. They don’t want you to catch the ball and when you do get the ball they are expecting you to make a play or attack.
BC: As the Defensive POY, who were a couple of the toughest OVC players you had to guard this year?
Ian: Isaiah would be one.
BC: What about DiNunno? I can’t remember if you had much time on him.
Ian: Yeah he would have to probably be the #1 guy.
BC: Just because he’s so quick or what?
Ian: Yeah he’s shorter but he’s quicker and he’s strong when he goes to the basket. It’s difficult for a 6’3 guard to try and bend down and get to that level and try to guard those guys.
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BC: Let’s talk about the guys who will be taking over next year. Most people haven’t seen Caleb Chowbay play, tell us about his game – do you think he has what it takes to be the next Alex Renfroe or a Kerron Johnson?
Ian: I think he has what it takes to be the next Caleb Chowbay. It’s kind of hard to compare him to Alex and Kerron. They are a totally different kind of player. Caleb definitely has what it takes. He comes to practice and works hard and brings a different style to the Belmont point guards of the past few years. Drew Hanlen was a great passer, a great leader, and a great three point shooter. Kerron is a great driver. Him and Alex were great drivers. You couldn’t stop them from getting to the basket. Caleb is more of his own shot creator. He can really shoot the ball from 3pt range and off the dribble. I’m actually kind of excited to see him play next year and the years to come because I think he brings something different.
BC: I don’t think Coach was expecting him to red-shirt. I mean it obviously worked out fine, you guys won the championship. Do you think it will be good for Belmont going forward that he has 4 more years and has seen you guys play and experienced the OVC and NCAA tournaments? That has to be valuable for the team going forward.
Ian: I definitely think so. He came and told us before the season that he was thinking about doing that. I was shocked that he was going to redshirt. I think he thought he needed time to see what the college game was like, you know the physicality of it and just being smarter and making decisions. I think also it being Kerron’s senior year and Reece playing really well also – playing behind those guys he wouldn’t have gotten a lot of experience. I think in his eyes he would have wasted a year of actually playing. I think he learned a lot from Kerron and it shows in practice. He’s been more focused and more logical of what to do and what not to do. I think it will definitely make him a better player.
BC: What do you think it is about Reece that made him such a good matchup in both Murray games? I mean he basically mounted the come back both times. What do you think was working so well in those situations?
Ian: Defensive intensity definitely. It’s what he brings to the table – he’s never scared to guard anyone. His hands are always active all the time. I think that’s why Coach Byrd always puts him in certain situations because he knows he can count on him defensively and he does the right things and he’s always in the right spots. We embrace that as a team because we know what Reece can do. He’s become more sound offensively also in being able to make shots and make the passes and everything. You know I said Caleb has benefited from watching the point guards – I think Reece definitely learned from Drew Hanlen. Reece redshirted also so when he got his time he used it to his advantage.
BC: This will be your third NCAA D1 tournament to play in. Are you personally doing anything different to prepare for this game? What about the team? Is Coach doing anything different in practice?
Ian: For me, I don’t think I’m doing anything different. I don’t think we are as a team either. We’ve always had practices leading up to the tournament that are more about us as team and our fundamentals. Just because we are going to the tournament doesn’t mean we are playing perfect basketball. I think the only thing different will be our mindset. That first year when we went, for a lot us it was our first time and we were shell shocked and excited to be there. I’m not saying that we didn’t want to win the game. Last year it was more of, ok we’re here what do we do next. Last year of course we didn’t win. A lot of the guys that are back this year – we are more hungry for it now. Especially the seniors, we’ve done a lot here and what better way [to end] than to get that first win in the tournament and keep moving on. It’s more of my mindset that we’re here now and it’s time to start winning games.
BC: What do you think the ‘X factor’ will be for Belmont to win a tournament game this year? Or is there one?
Ian: If I had to pinpoint something maybe our different style of play. The past few years people were talking about our three point shooting and our presence down low – of course we had big guys like Mick and Scott. This year we have a different offense. Maybe I wouldn’t say X-Factor, maybe a surprise of the different offense we might run. Just showing teams something that they’re not used to.
BC: Your senior year is months away from ending. What are your plans after graduation?
Ian: I am going to continue to keep playing. I don’t know a lot about that stuff and I haven’t gotten any deeper into it than a couple of phone calls. I’ve been away from all that for a long time because I’m more focused on these guys, my teammates being in the season. I’m sure when we’re done I’ll be talking to my buddy Drew Hanlen. Talking to him a lot because I know he has a lot of knowledge on a lot of this stuff and I’ll just go from there.
BC: In five, 10, 15 years from now when you look back on your time with Coach Byrd, what do you imagine will be one of the most valuable things he taught you?
Ian: Growing up and being a man. Over the past four years I can see how he’s [shown] me – on the court and off the court – how to act and how to conduct myself and how to respond to certain things. We get a lot of compliments being on the road of how we don’t act up like other teams and from alumni saying how good we look.
It’s the little things. I think when I was younger coming on the court I showed a little more emotion – and that’s not bad, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but there is a time and a place for everything. We know not to be arrogant or to boast on the court – which would be easy for me to do with the things that I’ve accomplished. It would be easy for us to boast and brag but Coach Byrd has taught us not to be that way. I think what a lot of guys including myself will take when we leave here – more than being a good basketball player – but he’s taught us to be men.
BC: I understand that you are doing some coaching? Tell me about that?
Ian: It’s going great I’m starting that back up now. I’m coaching a 6th grade AAU team and at first I was skeptical going into it because I didn’t know about the schedule or anything. But I got to know the kids and the parents and it was a whole new world for me that I could go get away from [everything]. On the court too – being on the court in a different position – seeing how my coaches feel when I’m not there. I’m learning, and we did good last year and I got the same guys this year. It’s been good to see the familiar faces.
BC: Do you find yourself saying stuff that Coach Byrd says to you guys?
Ian: Some of it. Some of it they probably wouldn’t understand. Me and Brandon Baker coach together and we do a lot of the same little drills that we’ve learned and try to incorporate a little bit.
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