Clippers’ trip to Orlando is special for one of team’s unsung heroes
From his home in Saint Augustine, Fla., Bo Clark estimates he’s watched every Clippers game since 2013, and after each he sends a text message of his observations. Call it habit — Clark was coached by his father in college, then became a college basketball coach for 31 years.
The recipient of his texts is his son, J.P. Clark.
“When I go back and watch the film, I’ll realize yeah, he’s right,” said J.P., who is in his sixth season in a player development role with the Clippers.
There was no need for a text late Friday after the Clippers’ 120-95 victory over the Orlando Magic. Bo Clark drove two hours from his home to deliver his thoughts in person outside the visitors’ locker room at Amway Center.
He’d never miss an opportunity to see the family’s third-generation coach in the city where their basketball lineage began 49 years ago and where J.P., now 32, earned his break into NBA coaching thanks to Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
“Some of my earliest childhood memories are being around my dad’s teams, traveling with the teams, being at his practices,” J.P. said. “That’s where I fell in love with the game. I grew up a coach’s son.
“Being around them, it kind of inspired me to want to do it, to live the life they were leading, to develop and have an impact on young people like they had.”
Reminders of the family business are all over Orlando. On the University of Central Florida campus, banners inside the basketball arena commemorate Gene “Torchy” Clark and Bo Clark. Torchy came to UCF in 1969 as the basketball program’s first coach. He remains the school’s all-time leader in victories and an on-campus gym was named for him in 2004.
Bo Clark, a three-time All-American at UCF and the school’s all-time leading scorer, has his jersey retired. In 1982, two years after his playing career ended, he became the head coach at Flagler College, where he coached his three sons and never left until his retirement 31 years later.
“During Thanksgiving we weren’t talking politics or Nixon or Kennedy,” Bo Clark said of his childhood. “We were talking about the Trail Blazers and if Bill Walton was going to be healthy or not.”
That passion was passed down. When J.P. tagged along as a kid to games between Flagler and its NCAA Division II rivals, it “felt like going to a Duke-North Carolina game,” he said. When his playing career ended in 2009, he volunteered as an assistant under his father.
“You could just tell during timeouts when you huddle with your coaches that everything he said was right on target,” Bo Clark said. “I just said to myself, as a parent you’re proud but this guy is really going to be a good coach. I also saw the positivity of it, too. Sometimes I was down after a loss and he’d kind of pick me up. He’s really good about that. I could tell he was going to be an excellent coach then.”
J.P. Clark figured he’d coach in college, too. Then he volunteered at a camp run by Kevin Eastman and Brendan Suhr, two longtime NBA coaches with connections to Rivers. Rivers’ son, Austin, was a blue-chip recruit at Winter Park High, an Orlando suburb, and after leaving Duke needed a trainer in preparation for the 2012 NBA draft. Eastman and Suhr recommended the 25-year-old.
“He looked like he was 12 at the time,” Doc Rivers said.
It wasn’t the only impression J.P. left.
Weeks after the draft, Rivers took Clark to Briar Patch, a restaurant in Winter Park, for breakfast and offered him a job to join the Boston Celtics’ staff. Clark primarily worked with the Celtics’ draft picks on the team’s D League affiliate in Maine and one year later, when Rivers left for the Clippers, he sent him a text inviting him to join him on the West Coast.
“He’s a really good kid and he has a great IQ,” Rivers said. “He’s one of those guys that grew up wanting to be a coach. Most guys grow up wanting to be a player. He grew up, he wanted to be a coach so he’s living his life, which is really cool.”
Torchy Clark died in 2009, before he could see his grandson coach, and the Clippers assistant thinks about his grandfather often during trips to Orlando when he hears stories about his influence.
“One of the things he would be so proud of I know in heaven is J.P. is doing well,” J.P. Clark said. “He’s coaching and Doc’s taking care of him. I think he would be really proud of that, and I know my family is. That makes me feel good on a daily basis.”
J.P. Clark said the profession was never pushed on him, but his father believes there’s no mistake why he’s found success so young.
“I think there is something with genetics,” Bo Clark said, “with my dad playing at Marquette and coaching, myself playing at UCF and coaching and J.P. playing at Flagler and coaching.
“Maybe J.P. will have a son, and he’ll end up coaching.”
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