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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Lowe's Senior CLASS, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Rockets rookie Gary Clark: "Defensively, I think I played like a rookie."

Posted: October 5, 2018 -- 8:40 a.m.

When he was in college playing basketball for Head Coach Mick Cronin and the Cincinnati Bearcats, Houston Rockets rookie forward Gary Clark enjoyed success. Clark earned Player of the Year honors in the American Athletic Conference in 2018; and, he was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year twice.

Despite success in college, Clark (6'8", 225) did not get drafted in the 2 rounds of the 2018 NBA Draft. However, not getting drafted allowed Clark and his agent to choose which NBA team would be a good place to earn a roster spot and contribute.

Answer: the Houston Rockets.

Clark signed a multi-year deal with the Rockets; and, Clark has impressed in training camp and in two preseason games.

In Thursday's 110-100 preseason loss to the Indiana Pacers, Clark scored 8 points on 3 for 6 field goal shooting (2 for 4 on threes) and pulled down 2 boards in nearly 17 minutes. In two preseason games, Clark is averaging 7 points and 3 boards in 14 minutes per game.

After the game, James Harden said 'Gary Clark came in and played well.'

Clark's assessment of his performance against the Pacers: "I think I did okay. Defensively, I think I played like a rookie. A lot of mistakes."

Clark admits he was a little nervous in his first NBA home game; but, he said, "Our vets do a good job of having us cool, collected, and ready."

P.J. Tucker, the Rockets' defensive anchor and do-everything veteran is helping Clark learn what to do and when to do it.

"P.J. was on the sidelines coaching me through a lot of little things that I should have seen before and reacted faster," Clark said. "But, you know, it's gonna come with watching film and getting more experience.

"On the ball, I'm pretty good," Clark continued. "But, getting used to defensive three seconds and knowing when I can be in there (in the lane); when to help and so forth. But, in all, I think it's little, minor things, minor fixes that I can make defensively that really helps my team."

Obviously, college basketball is different than the NBA; and, like most newcomers to the NBA, Clark is adjusting to the speed, athleticism, and rules in the NBA.

"It's (the adjustment from college to NBA) been big. Playing against more talented, more athletic guys at every position," acknowledge Clark. "I'm no longer just guarding the four man (power forward) or the five man (center). I'm guarding one, two, three, four, five. All spots."

One factor rookies in the league must learn is knowing personnel and learning the strengths and weaknesses of opponents.

"Knowing personnel. Knowing what guys can do. Knowing game situations," Clark stated.

Clark noted a lapse on defense in the second half which he'll use as a learning tool.

"I think going into the fourth I let one of the shooters get a wide open shot with, only, like two seconds left on the shot clock," Clark admitted. "My guy did a back cut; and, I was out (of position). Instead of flying by him, I tried to be conservative; but, knowing the time and being aware just try to run him off and fly by."

Though he's now in the NBA, Clark stays in touch with Coach Cronin. In fact, Cronin contacted Clark after Thursday's game.

"Oh, yeah, he (Cronin) just texted me: 'Great game. You played well. Way to stay solid. Just make sure you stay in shape.' That was my biggest thing in college: as long as I was in shape, I was pretty dominant and effective on both ends of the floor."

Clark's next opportunity is this Sunday afternoon when the Rockets head to San Antonio to face the Spurs in a 3 p.m. tip-off.

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