Missouri alums earning shot with rebuilding Lakers
By ALEX SCHIFFER
College Contributor Network
Brooklyn - Before Jordan Clarkson can even finish his sentence, he's interrupted by a flying pair of shoes heading his way.
"Hey rook," Lakers forward Jordan Hill says. "Take care of those."
Clarkson promptly puts the pair of Nike's with the rest of his teammates shoes next to a laundry bag carrying the team's practice uniforms. As one of the Los Angeles Lakers rookies, aside from running the point for one of the NBA's most historic franchises, the point guard has added a new title since joining the squad; laundry boy.
"This is nothing," Clarkson said, shaking his head while wearing a smirk. "Sometimes he makes me take his drawers in or his clothes to the cleaners."
But for Clarkson, he could care less about being the laundry man or the fact that he now shares his nickname with a chess piece -- throughout the locker room he's known as "rook" by the veteran players. But regardless of what he goes by, he says he's having too much fun.
"Just getting the opportunity to play, develop, I mean it's been great," Clarkson said of his rookie season. "I'm blessed for the opportunity and have been trying to take full advantage."
And Clarkson has been taking advantage lately, especially after the All-Star break.
After being taken in the second round of last June's NBA Draft out of Missouri, Clarkson spent the first half of the season as a substitute in coach Byron Scott's rotation.
But since the start of the second half of the season, Clarkson has been a different man, averaging 14.9 points per game alone with 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds, making a case to be named to the All-Rookie squad.
"I think he's more comfortable now," Scott said. "He's a got a lot of confidence in what he can do. He keeps growing each and every day. So with all of that and playing time added you get a chance to get better. He's gaining experience which is something most of these young guys need."
Clarkson cites a large part of his success to recently retired Lakers guard Steve Nash. Nash has been working out with Clarkson lately, both on the court and in the film room. While Nash retired due to repeated injuries, Clarkson said their training sessions aren't ending anytime soon.
"Steve's been a big brother to me in terms of mentoring me, taking me to the gym, getting some work in," Clarkson said. "We'll still be getting in the gym and working."
Clarkson's been joined this season by Jabari Brown, one of his closest friends who has helped Clarkson make the transition to NBA life smoother. The two played together last season at Missouri and even shared a house. Brown went undrafted last season after leaving school a year early like Clarkson and landed himself a pair of 10-day contracts with the Lakers after leading the D-League in scoring.
Like Clarkson, Brown has quickly proved his worth to the team.
"Jabari's been good," Scott said. "We had him in training camp. The one thing I talked to him about at the end of training camp was being more aggressive, being more assertive, and he's done that with his second stint with us. He's shown that us that he's a guy that can definitely play at this level. Very smart basketball player. He doesn't do a lot of things to hurt himself when he's out there on the court."
Brown also cites Clarkson's presence as a reason for his own success.
"Things are always better when you got someone that you're comfortable with," Brown said. "He's been giving me some advice here and there but he's still learning on the fly too."
Aside from Brown, Clarkson has also had the company of Lakers assistant Paul Pressey to lean on. Pressey's son Phil, now with the Celtics, played with Brown and Clarkson at Missouri and is a childhood friend of Jordan's. The Pressey's were instrumental in getting Clarkson to join the Tigers when he decided to transfer from Tulsa after his sophomore season. Clarkson met the family in his hometown of San Antonio years ago when Paul was with the Spurs.
"I've known Phil since Coach Pressey has been coaching in San Antonio so it's cool to have familiar faces around you," Clarkson said. "It's a family environment so it makes you more comfortable."
While Clarkson still has a long way to go in his professional career, the player that started the year off as a bit of an afterthought is now a huge piece for the Lakers' rebuilding process going forward. Scott didn't hesitate to state his opinion on what Clarkson has meant to the team this season.
"I think we've hit a home run with Jordan Clarkson so far."
Alex Schiffer is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Missouri and hails from Westfield, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @TheSchiffMan