PULLMAN – It’s early on a cool September morning at the Washington State University tennis courts, home to a multiteam tournament. Ivory Clark is there. Weeks later at a swim meet, Clark is there.
It looks as if Clark, the 6-foot-6 forward with a 7-3 wingspan on the WSU basketball team, is out of place.
“I just make the best of any situation,” he said, explaining his solo appearances across the campus. “I made the choice to come here and I make the most of it.”
But forgive Clark if WSU, if Pullman, if all of Washington feels a little odd right now. As much as the junior college transfer enjoys playing basketball at a major-conference school, there is a part of him that feels he could be elsewhere.
That would be home, back in New Orleans, more specifically the West Bank across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter.
Not too long after Clark moved into Pullman, Hurricane Katrina moved through New Orleans and changed the lives of Clark, his family and so many others in the flood-stricken city.
The Clark family was lucky, relatively speaking. Its neighborhood wasn’t swamped with the waters that buried much of the city for weeks on end. Fallen trees ended up being as great a problem.
But still, when his family first evacuated the city and went to Memphis, Tenn., to stay with extended family, Clark was stuck in Pullman. When they moved to Monroe in central Louisiana, Clark was stuck in Pullman.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “My parents are in their 50s and 60s, and my dad was telling me about how he had to clean up the house, the downed trees and everything, by himself. He’s getting up there in age, and I wish I could be there to help him out. But at the same time, we both know that me being in school up here is what’s best for us – him, me and everyone. We understand that if I could be there, I wish I could, but it’s better for me to be in school.”
His father had been a cab driver before the hurricane but has found work with a contractor as the rebuilding effort continues. His mother is still in Monroe with Clark’s younger sister, Brittany, who had started her senior year in high school and wants to finish the year before heading back as well.
“The house is still standing, but my job was shut down, the school was closed,” said Clark’s mother, Carolyn, who had been a store manager at a school-uniform shop, one that closed because the schools it provided clothing for are still closed. She works at a health care firm in Monroe.
“I guess I was kind of glad he was already stable and situated when Katrina came along. It made it, for me, I guess, a little easier that he was already where he was going to be.”
Clark is establishing himself on the court at WSU in his first year. In his second game, against BYU, he scored 23 points. While still struggling to adjust at times, it’s obvious watching any practice or game that Clark has as much potential as anyone on the Cougars roster this season.
“You look at his big game against BYU, his big game against Wyoming,” assistant coach Ben Johnson said. “He’ll go up and make big rebounds that nobody else can get.
“His length is second to none. So he has a lot of physical tools and you can’t teach. His biggest challenge is going to be the basketball education, learning the game at this level. … If he can improve on those areas, he becomes a really deadly player.”
In little more than 24 hours, he’ll get the biggest test of his basketball career, going up against Gonzaga. It’ll be an opportunity to see former Midland (Texas) College teammate Mamery Diallo, but more important it’ll be Clark’s first chance to show what he can do against top competition – possibly even Adam Morrison.
Even with an eye on home, Clark knows that it’s WSU first for now.
“It’s hard, but it’s no use dwelling over spilled milk,” he said. “You do what you can and move on. And I’m pretty happy up here. … There’s a lot to be done. But I personally can’t do too much besides do my best in school and get my degree, go back afterwards and try to help.”
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