Former Blaze star trying to keep the dream alive

Tarell Clark of the Eagan Bulldogs guards an Iowa Elite Pro player during a Midwest Basketball League game Saturday at Eagan Community Center. Clark, who led Burnsville High School to the state tournament in 2008, still plays in hopes of drawing interest from a professional team.

Clark hopes Eagan-based semipro team is a bridge to pro basketball

Seeing a one-time prep basketball star such as Tarell Clark leading the transition and hoisting jump shots at Eagan Community Center, it would be easy to assume he’s just finding a way to keep in touch with the game that had been a big part of his life.

But that’s not quite it. He still considers basketball to be his career. At 29, with two sons, and 11 years removed from leading Burnsville to the state high school tournament, Clark continues to dream of playing professionally somewhere in the world.

“I know I can still compete at that level,” Clark said. “I’ve got to put the work in. I’ve been putting in the hours in the gym, the weightroom, and that’s all I can really do, just push myself to be the best I can be.”

This spring and summer Clark is playing for the Eagan Bulldogs, a semipro team in the Midwest Basketball League. The league, which started in 2015, markets itself as a way for aspiring players to be noticed and move up in the pro basketball developmental chain. It has 26 teams in seven states, including six teams in Minnesota. The first-year Eagan franchise is owned by Michael Wright, who’s also the MBL president and founder.

Most of the players have college basketball experience, primarily in NCAA Division III or the NAIA. That includes Clark, who spent two seasons at Williston (N.D.) State College and two more at Minnesota State Moorhead.

“Everybody here has played at a high enough level to know the game,” said Clark, who plays point guard. “Some of these guys are pros, have played pro. The talent’s there. It’s not a little informal league. These guys can actually play, and they want to win as bad as we do. We can’t come out there and think we’re going to run over a team.”

The Bulldogs won their first six games before losing to Iowa Elite Pro 113-97 on Saturday at Eagan Community Center. Eagan now is tied for first place in its division. The team plays Saturday, May 18, in Rochester against the Rochester Roadrunners and Sunday, May 19, against TC Elite at Jerry Gamble Boys and Girls Club in Minneapolis. The Bulldogs’ next home game is 3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 26, against the Minnesota Lakers.

As a high school senior, Clark averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds for a Burnsville team that went 20-10, tied for second in the Lake Conference and won the Class 4A, Section 3 championship. He was second on Burnsville’s career scoring list with 1,537 points when he graduated.

His basketball career has had a few detours since then. Clark earned two letters at Williston State and averaged 17.3 points in his second season there. He transferred to Minnesota State Moorhead for the 2010-11 season and led the Dragons in scoring (13.5 points per game), assists and steals.

After a two-year basketball hiatus to tend to his academics, he played his senior season in Moorhead in 2013-14, averaging 12.1 points and 8.6 assists.

Clark said his professional ambitions have been derailed by injuries, most recently tendinitis in his right knee. The MBL offered him a chance to play his way back into shape.

“Basketball at times took a step back because of the injuries,” he said after Eagan’s game Saturday. “(The Bulldogs) gave me an opportunity. I’m about 85 percent now, but I still feel good. Before, it was about 40 percent.”

Clark said the injuries forced him to re-evaluate how he prepared himself physically.

“When you’re young you think your body can do it all and you’re going to do it forever,” he said. “I thought I was going to be 60 and still playing basketball. When I was injured, I had to take it step by step. It was mentally draining, but you have to overcome it.”

The Bulldogs’ regular season runs through the end of June, after which he hopes to find out if he still has a future in pro ball, either domestically or overseas. “I thought I’d still be playing at a higher level, but we’re going to get there,” he said. “I have a couple of people who are working with me and hopefully by the end of the summer we’ll have some tryouts and see what happens from there.”

If pro basketball isn’t in the future, he expects to help his sons, who already have shown an interest in basketball. His oldest has “the same passion and drive,” Clark said.

“I have my two boys and I’m training them so that hopefully in about 10 years you’ll be interviewing them. Whatever happens with basketball, as long as I have them and they’re good, I’m happy with it.”

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