Thursday, February 5, 2009

Alysha Clark speaks about life on, off court

Fans know her as the 5-foot-10-inch unstoppable force under the basket. Coaches know her as the go-to player that will always step up and make big plays when needed. But very few people know her as a model, reporter and volleyball player.

Alysha Clark is currently a junior forward for the Lady Raiders and the second-leading scorer in the nation but outside of basketball, she is a regular student with goals and aspirations.

"I want to pursue modeling," Clark says. "I took some modeling classes this summer and throughout the first semester.

"That was something I've always wanted to do."
Clark explains that in addition to modeling, she would also like to pursue coaching. After helping coach an Amateur Athletic Union team, Clark says she loves being able to give knowledge that she's learned from coaches to girls so they can be farther advanced than she was when she was a junior in high school.

Originally, Clark says she wanted to be a print journalism major but switched over to broadcasting.

"When I was at Belmont, I was taking a sports reporting class, and I was writing stories from our games when I was hurt," Clark says. "That's just something that I find interesting, because you get to capture the athletes' emotions before and after."

Before making the switch to basketball, Clark says that she played volleyball and followed in her sister's footsteps in running track.

"Those were my first two loves," Clark explains. "I loved playing volleyball and running track in my freshman year of high school."

After moving to Tennessee in her sophomore year of high school, Clark says that basketball was so demanding that she didn't have time to continue playing volleyball and running track. However, it was at this time that she says she really began to develop a love and passion for the game through Mount Juliet High School Head Coach Chris Fryer.

"I learned how to use my left hand my freshman year, but he really developed my left- hand shot," Clark says. "He taught me basic post moves, like how to pivot and how to move."

While adapting to Fryer's coaching methods, Clark says she really found herself believing she could play at a Division I level basketball team. Encouraging her, she says that Fryer put confidence in her to work harder during the season to make up for lost time.

"[He] made me think that maybe I can go and really do something with this [basketball]."

Belmont drafted Clark and pursued her talent even after she became injured. Clark says that originally she wanted to go to Vanderbilt with her friend and now Vanderbilt junior guard Jessica Mooney. During this time, Clark says that she wanted to be a pediatrician.

"Belmont was consistent in contacting me and sending me letters, and that really meant a lot to me," Clark says. "I didn't want to take a risk in my senior year and end up having no where to go."

Clark spent her time at Belmont well, considering she helped lead the team to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007. She also scored 1,000 points in 52 games, making her the fastest athlete at Belmont to do so.

In 2007-08, Clark sat on the sidelines of the MT bench due to transfer rules. Clark says she had played Head Coach Rick Insell before and decided to come to MT because of the program he is building.

"The type of mentality and skill set that he teaches, and his passion for the game provides girls the opportunity to reach the next level," Clark says. "[Sitting on the sidelines] was hard, because I wasn't injured and knew I could be out there.

"I took it as an opportunity to see the game from a different aspect."

When it comes to the experience of playing at MT, Clarks says that the schedule is more grueling, considering Insell schedules games against Courtney and Ashley Paris from the University of Oklahoma, LSU and UT.

"I wanted to compete against the best if I want to be among them," Clark says. "Seeing we can compete with those kinds of teams only gives you confidence."

Many people see Clark as an WNBA hopeful, and especially after practicing with 2008's ninth draft pick, Amber Holt, Clark says it would be an honor to play in the league.

"It would be big, especially for my family to get to that caliber," Clark says. "I do it for me, but I also do it for my parents [because] they've always provided so much for me and I've always wanted to do something and have a career where I can give back to them.

"Regardless if I go fifth pick or 15th pick, having that opportunity just to be there is something that I can say to my children that at least I've been there.

Photo by Alex Blackwelder