Clark often leaves them smiling. Unlike another troubled but talented former UNLV star, Portland Trail Blazers guard Isaiah Rider, Clark disarms his critics with a playful demeanor. "J.R. was J.R.," he says. "I'm a different person." Gregarious and upbeat, Clark does not squirm or scowl when confronted with his mistakes. He explains them without a hint of remorse. "I never regret anything," he says. "I just try to learn from everything I do."
When his junior season ended, Clark says, Runnin' Rebels teammate Kevin Simmons told Clark he had a way to get the two of them to Florida free for spring break. Clark just followed along, looking to have fun. He says he didn't realize that the fun was being bankrolled by an agent—until arriving in Florida. "We got picked up in a limo, and we got wined and dined," he says. "And then it was, like, oh, boy, we're in trouble."
Clark says he called his mother, Cynthia Brown, back in Danville and explained his situation. She called UNLV coach Bill Bayno, who insisted that Clark and Simmons turn themselves in to the NCAA and hope for leniency. "I was like, oh, no, we can't do that—we're UNLV," says Clark. "Ever since Tark [former coach Jerry Tarkanian] was here, the school has had a tarnished reputation with the NCAA. We're not going to get a break." Clark says Cynthia, who works for an insurance company and raised him alone ("always just the two of us," Clark says fondly), paid to fly him home from Florida, but that did not dissuade the NCAA from coming down hard six months later.
"Eleven games," Clark says, shaking his head. "That was a lot worse than I thought it would be. Coach Bayno and I were thinking three or four games. Eleven games. That was tough." Simmons was forced to sit out 14 games.
Clark returned to the Rebels on Jan. 4, and in his second game back, against Air Force, scored a career-high 28 points. He went on to average 32.0 minutes, 14.8 points, 8.6 boards and 2.2 blocks in his next 10 games but never felt comfortable on the court. "I think he tried to make up for those 11 games every time he played," says Rice.
On Feb. 7, Clark sat out a game against Wofford because of what a team spokesman said was "conjunctivitis." Two days later Bayno suspended Clark indefinitely. The only reason given was a violation of team rules, but Clark says now that he had failed a school-administered drug test, and he knows what people are thinking, How could he be so dumb? Why would someone on the brink of an NBA career risk it all just to get high?
"It was just me, and it was a mistake," he says. The positive drug test earned Clark his second suspension, but this one was different. This time, he wasn't welcome at practice. "Basically, I wasn't allowed to better myself," Clark says. "I could do individual workouts, lift weights, that kind of thing, but I couldn't practice, and that hurt."
So Clark decided to pack his bags yet again and, with Bay-no's blessing, leave Las Vegas. He signed with veteran agent Tony Dutt (who wasn't his spring-break host) and went to New Orleans for a month to work with renowned trainer Mackie Shilstone. At 220 pounds Clark knows he needs to add muscle if he intends to mix it up with the top centers and power forwards of the NBA. "Keon's stronger than he looks, but he really doesn't like a lot of contact," says David Rose, who coached Clark at Dixie College in St. George, Utah, and is now an assistant at BYU. "He likes to get up and down the floor, catch it on the move and finish the break."
"The big questions with Keon are strength, physical play and consistency," says Wallace. "We know he's a highlight-film player who can make the spectacular play. It remains to be seen if he can be a consistent player at the next level. Right now he's the wild card."
Right now the wild card from Vegas could go almost anywhere. One thing's for sure: As usual, his bags are packed. "I don't care where I go," says Clark, looking forward to draft night in Vancouver. "I just want to get a phone call, go on stage and wear a hat."