SALT LAKE CITY — Ian Clark’s college team played in Utah last spring and the Belmont star made a quick pit stop in the Beehive State after being signed by the Jazz this summer. Despite that, the rookie knew next to nobody and recognized very little about his new surroundings when he showed up before training camp.
Some things were impossible to overlook.
The tall hills to the east? Those are the Wasatch Mountains.
The tall building he temporarily called home? Welcome to the Grand America.
And the tall guy who’s as big as those mountains and hotel? That’s Rudy Gobert, his new BFF.
That’s an acronym for Best French Friend, of course.
Since meeting each other in early September, 6-foot-3 guard Clark and 7-foot-1 center Gobert have become fast friends in Salt Lake City. They’re from vastly different backgrounds in Tennessee and France, but the rookies quickly hit it off and are helping each other cope with a working environment that is foreign to them both.
“I never would have thought it,” the 22-year-old Clark said with a smile. “But that’s how life works sometimes.”
Or, as they might say in France, c’est la vie!
“It’s always better than being alone,” 21-year-old Gobert admitted.
The friendship formed quickly when Clark, the American, asked Gobert, the Frenchman, for a lift across town. He was without a car and the two players were staying at the same hotel until they could find their own apartments.
“I asked him for a ride to workouts,” Clark said. “From then on, we started hanging out all the time.”
Hanging out, working out, eating out, playing a lot of basketball, occasionally teasing each other — even on Twitter, playing a variety of games, and helping each other with their native languages.
“We just chill,” Clark said. “It’s good to have somebody (to hang out with).”
“We scope out the city together, restaurants, see places,” Gobert said.
Clark took Gobert to an American football game at the University of Utah, and he’s taught his tall buddy a thing or two about basketball video games.
Gobert taught Clark a very limited amount of French vocabulary, and he’s schooled him at the pool table.
“In Basket 2K, he beats me,” Gobert admitted.
“He beats me in pool all the time,” Clark added.
Did we mention they also razz each other like friends so often do?
“I got him a couple of times (in pool), got close,” Clark said, defending himself.
“It’s like 20-2,” Gobert said, clarifying the one-sided outcomes.
“No it’s not,” Clark rebutted. “It’s like 8-2.”
“No … 15.”
The Southerner and the Parisian laugh with the same accent, by the way. Get them speaking and, well, that’s when the different dialects are noticeable. That’s especially the case when Clark shares his version of French.
“I know one word: Gunwee,” Clark said, laughing. He then tried to correct his pronunciation before Gobert could. “Gunawee. It means frog, I think. I don’t know why he told me that, but that’s what he told me.”
“Grenouille,” Gobert said, correcting him with his charming French accent.
Gobert immersed himself into extensive English studies a couple of years ago, knowing he’d be leaving France to play in the NBA. There are occasional times when he needs Clark’s help when they’re out and about and he can’t quite understand what’s being said.
“Sometimes when I don’t remember something, I’ll ask him,” Gobert said.
Clark is impressed. “For the most part, he gets it.”
Both players are still trying to get a better feel of being an NBA player, which isn’t easy for newcomers trying to make their mark and prove they belong. Sometimes their coaches want them to say the basketball equivalent of “grenouille” and all they can remember is “gunwee.”
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has been patient and given them both credit for trying and improving.
“It’s a rough start,” Gobert said, “but I think I’m getting it pretty good.”
Clark didn’t have the benefit of playing with the Jazz this past summer like Gobert, and the former Belmont standout said it’s been a challenge adjusting to a new city, set of teammates and style of play. The sharpshooter, signed by Utah after being named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP, remains hopeful that he’ll work his way into the playing mix.
“That’s one of my goals — to be able to have an established role on this team,” Clark said. “I want to help any way possible. Whatever coach needs me to do, I’ll be ready to do. That’s just my mindset — to work hard and be ready.”
In the meantime, the young man from Memphis will continue to experience Utah at times with the young man from France. There’s a long NBA season to be played — and they hope to get minutes like fellow rookie Trey Burke — but they’ve talked about taking a trip to France next summer.
In the more immediate future, Clark has some plans for when Gobert visits his and Elvis' old stomping grounds later this year.
“I might have to introduce him to barbecue,” he said.
The rookies have managed to do a cultural cuisine exchange in Salt Lake City. Clark tasted canard at The Paris restaurant, while Gobert chowed down on some grits at the Park Café.
Clark hasn’t refined his palate to the point of trying escargot yet, but he was pleasantly surprised by the duck.
“It was good, actually,” he said. “Just like chicken a little bit.”
Or, as they might say in France, just like grenouilles a little bit.