When I think about Europe, I picture an odyssey filled with passport stamps, culture and new experiences with the potential to change the person experiencing them. I have a romanticized vision of hopping from country to country, trying to get by on my wits and a little bit of broken German or Spanish. Over the years, I’ve wrongly applied that perspective to Americans and former Duquesne players who sign contracts to play basketball abroad. Bottom line, they leave home to work not to get drunk in a beer garden, see the sites or scheme on some young women at the playa. What I thought was an exciting globe trotting jaunt is a grind just like any other job except sometimes your boss doesn’t speak any English.
I didn’t have to exchange too much dialogue with Bill Clark before my imagined experience for an American professional basketball player became somewhat demystified. It’s been an up and down road for the 6’5” swing man, but that’s not to say he hasn’t enjoyed much of his journey so far. After featuring in the Portsmouth Invitational, Clark signed with Fos Ouest Provence in the small city Fos sur Mer on the Southern French coast forty minutes West of Marseilles. The natural landscape and climate in the South of France reminded Clark of his native Los Angeles, but he only stayed for one year. From there he moved on to Selcuk Univeritesi in Konya in Central Anatolia where he helped the team earn promotion to the Turkish top division finishing second in both scoring and rebounding. Clark spoke highly of the fans, city life and culture calling it the most deeply religious city in Turkey, but in spite of his best efforts, he did not get a chance for a return campaign setting up a turbulent third season abroad.
This year began with a return to the French second division, this time for Rouen, a mid sized city downstream from Paris on the Seine. Clark dominated the league in the early going but on a struggling team, no one is safe. He was released because of a disconnect with the coaching staff and found himself briefly plying his trade in Cyprus. The Cypriot league didn’t provide enough of a challenge or experience to further his career so he moved once again to MBC Mykolaiv. On January 31, 2014, Clark made his debut in the Ukraine Superleague amid rising political turbulence. On February 21, prime minister Viktor Yanukovych stepped down setting off even more unrest in the polarized nation. Before he arrived, Clark knew little of the conflict brewing in his new home. Of the situation in the Ukraine, Clark noted “[My former agent] kind of blindsided me I when I got out there. I didn’t know what to expect until things got worse.”
Outside of the political instability, Clark noted the greatest language and cultural barriers in the Ukraine. He does not intend to return and is currently unattached looking for offers from a new club.
Clark’s game in Europe is much the same as the one we saw from him at Duquesne except he’s been asked to expand his role as a play maker. He’s still known for his shooting, versatility and his grit. “A lot of teams pick me up because they know how I am and how I play. Kind of like with a chip on my shoulder and kind of like the bulldog of the team.”
“I’ve played one through four,” Clark said on how coaches have used him as a professional but he’d like to find a team where he can focus on his more preferred role on the wing. “Two, three is my natural positions that I enjoy playing.”
For Clark, the biggest difference between the college game and the international game is that players rely more on their size and wits than their athleticism. The game moves more slowly in his opinion, but opponents anticipate the play better. “There are a variety of different rules, a variety of different techniques and just the mental aspect. [Professionals] are just so much smarter and you really have to adjust if you want to play.”
Clark admits that he’s still much the same player. Where he’s matured is his improved business savvy and understanding of the game, both on and off the court. Self admitted as somewhat naive when he left Pittsburgh, he came out of college buying whatever agents were selling but quickly learned they didn’t always have his best interest in mind. Now, he just wants to work with an agency who looks out for him and not just the bottom line. (Clark is currently represented by Scorers 1st Sports Management)
Turnover is high on European clubs and Clark understands that his job is on the line every time he steps on the court. He also gets that poor team success can land him on the chopping block even if the fault for failure isn’t solely his. While he still dreams of playing in the Euroleague or even the NBA, he would prefer to simply find a club where he can find some stability and a solid fit for himself.
“I just want to be somewhere where I’m wanted,” Clark said “At the end of the day, no matter where it is. If it’s in Asian, if it’s in Eastern Europe or Western Europe, you just want to be somewhere where you’re in a good situation money wise, team wise, chemistry wise and country wise.
Bill Clark’s gotten himself a lot of passport stamps and he’s resided in some amazing places some of us only dream of living in. Of course, his European adventure isn’t about luxury or taking it easy. It’s about finding his path and trying to at least carve out a living while learning just enough of the local tongue to say “how are you” or order something to eat a restaurant. He’s had some good experiences and some bad ones, but in the end, he’s showing that he really gets what it takes to make whatever comes his way work.