This article was originally published in the July 2023 issue of Basket Korea Webzine. (Link to purchase Basket Korea Webzine)
카지노Since its inception, the KBL has seen many foreign players. However, it is rare to find someone who has spent so much time with multiple clubs. Ira Clarke is one of them.
After her prime, Clarke was called up by several clubs as a “replacement specialised foreign player”, but she adapted quickly and became the first foreign player to coach a KBL club. He has spent more years with the KBL than anyone else.
After the 2013-2014 season, Clarke began working with foreign player tryouts and drafts. He hoped to continue his career in Korea for the 2014-2015 season. During his time with Busan KT (now Suwon KT), he held his own.
While he wasn’t a starter like he was in his prime, he was competitive enough to be a second-option foreign player. However, Clarke was not selected in the draft.
A number of clubs, including the 2013-2014 champions Ulsan Mobis (now Ulsan Hyundai Mobis), Seoul SK, and Changwon LG, re-signed their existing foreign players. With nine players under contract, there was no room for Clarke to slip through the cracks, and with the seniority of the squad, it was natural for the rest of the team to look for someone new.
However, Clarke got his chance as a replacement foreign player in the 2014-2015 season. This was because Mobis had parted ways with Rod Benson in preparation for the season.
Here’s the backstory. At the time, head coach Yoo Jae-hak was away preparing for the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, and head coach Kim Jae-hoon was running the team’s training. Benson had a disagreement with the coaching staff during practice and threw several tantrums. After much deliberation, Mobis decided not to play with Benson.
Mobis immediately contacted Clarke. Clarke started his first game in the KBL with Ulsan. He spent a lot of time on the bench, but when he was on the floor, he gave the team a boost and served as a mentor to Ricardo Ratliff (now Laguna).
Mobis’s homegrown talent was still strong. Yang Dong-geun (now coach of Ulsan Hyundai Mobis), Moon Tae-young, and Ham Ji-hoon were the mainstays. Yang, Tae-young Moon, Ji-hoon Ham and Ratliff anchored the offence, while Clarke held his own during his playing time. He also showed off his athleticism with the occasional dunk. As a result of their combined strength, the Mobis finished first in the regular season and cruised into the best-of-four playoffs.
They faced Changwon LG in the best-of-four playoffs. Having faced each other in the 2013-2014 championship final, the two teams met again on a wooden bridge. The series was tense.
However, there was a huge twist in the series. During the national anthem, LG ace Davon Jefferson made a warm-up gesture. This sparked a firestorm of controversy. After much deliberation, LG released Jefferson for the series. Mobis had the advantage. Although it came down to the final game, he had another laugh against LG.
Mobis faced Wonju East (now Wonju DB) in the championship match. It went to a fifth game in the best-of-four playoffs, but Mobis was steadfast. In fact, he overpowered Dongbu in the physicality battle. Mobis claimed the championship without dropping a game. The first three-game losing streak in professional basketball history. Clarke enjoyed his first championship since joining the KBL.
However, Clarke was unable to re-sign with Mobis. Due to the foreign player and naturalised mixed-race player retention rules (three years each), Mobis was unable to keep Ratliff and Moon Tae-young. In addition, the foreign player system has changed. One of the two foreign players had to be 193cm or shorter, and the two foreign players had to play in the second and third quarters.
So Mobis searched for a new option one foreign player. He called up Rio Lions, who had played for the Seoul Samsung and Goyang Orions. He selected Cuthbert Victor, an undersized big man.
Although he wasn’t a centre, Victor led the offence from the inside and outside. He also had good chemistry with Hamm. Even though Mobis wasn’t the favourite to win the title, they had a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.
But then came the bad news. The Lions’ season came to an end with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Mobis’ plans were thrown into disarray.
After much deliberation, he chose Clarke as his replacement overseas player. Clarke was in great shape, despite being in his 40s, and had already experienced Mobis’ defensive tactics. He was able to integrate into the team quickly.
However, he had to play long hours as a long man. That”s when age caught up with Clarke. His 15.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game weren’t enough. And in the playoffs, he had problems. After that season, it looked like we wouldn’t see Clarke in the pros.
Jeonju KCC signed Andre Emmett and Leon Lyons as foreign players for the 2016-2017 season, but Lyons struggled to get going. That’s when KCC chose Clarke. The clock was still ticking for Clarke.
Clarke broke the record for the oldest player in the KBL. In 22 games, he averaged 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. With Emmett as the No. 1 option for foreign players, he didn’t put up the numbers, but Clark did a good job of backing up Ha Seung-jin. His performance was similar to his 2015-2016 season.
Back to Ulsan and as a coach
After the 2016-2017 season, it looked like we wouldn’t see Clarke in the KBL, but he joined the Hyundai Mobis for the second half of the 2018-2019 season.
With a bit of luck. Ratliff qualified as a domestic player under the name ‘Ragan-ah’, which allowed Hyundai Mobis to keep three foreign players.
Hyundai Mobis sent out DJ Johnson, the third option foreign player. Then they brought in Clarke again. Clarke’s experience was highly valued. Moreover, with Lagana being heavily guarded by the opposition, Clarke had to be the ‘big brother’ of the foreign players.
In the 2018-2019 season, Hyundai Mobis was unique in the league. They were unbeatable. Lee Dae-sung and Ragan-ah, as well as short foreign player Shannon Shorter, were firmly in the centre. The support of Moon Tae-jong off the bench could not be ignored. Park Kyung-sang (currently with Jeonju KCC Power Analytics) and Lee Jong-hyun (currently with Anyang KGC Ginseng) were included in the core roster. Yang Dong-geun and Ham Ji-hoon were able to ease the pressure.
Hyundai Mobis topped the regular season and went straight into the best-of-four playoffs. They beat KCC in four games. They started their final match against Incheon Electroland (now Daegu KOGAS), a first-time champion.
Lee Dae-seong and Ragan-ah led the offence. They were also a presence in defence. Even Shorter, who had been playing with purity throughout the season, was able to find solutions. With just Lee, Shotter, and Ragan-ah, Hyundai Mobis overwhelmed E-Land.
This was complemented by Moon Tae-jong’s one shot. The Hyundai Mobis defeated the E-Land in five games. It was the first time in four years that they won the overall title since the 2014-2015 season. Clarke also won a championship ring for Hyundai Mobis after four years. However, for various reasons, he was not re-signed for another season.
However, Clarke joined the Hyundai Mobis coaching staff as a foreign coach. Although his first season as a foreign coach (2019-2020) was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Clarke continued to coach the Hyundai Mobis players in the 2020-2021 season and remained with the team until the 2021-2022 season.
Yoo stepped down in the summer of 2022. Head coach Cho Dong-hyun took over as head coach and the Hyundai Mobis coaching staff was reshuffled. Clarke had to leave the team. However, he remains a fondly remembered figure for basketball fans. This is because he spent a long time with the KBL.