MACOMB, Ill. - Reaching the ultimate goal in life brings with it highs and lows. One must have the strength to handle any adversity that comes their way. Ceola Clark III continues to reach for the ultimate goal of playing in the NBA, after having to overcome adversity during his six-year career at Western Illinois University.
The next step in reaching that goal has been accomplished. Clark has signed on to play professional basketball with Sigal Prishtina in Kosovo.
“(Sigal Prishtina) gave me a guaranteed contract which is rare for a rookie overseas,” Clark said.
Ahmet Kandemir is the head coach of the team that plays in the Kosovo Basketball Super League and the Balkan League.
“(Kandemir) speaks real highly of me and thinks he can turn me into a NBA player in a few years,” Clark said.
The professional dream was dealt a large blow at the end of his final season as a Leatherneck. Driving into the lane against North Dakota State in the semifinals of the Summit League Tournament, Clark tore his ACL.
It was a gruesome moment for those watching, but Clark was undeterred from letting it affect his future in professional basketball.
“I’ve been going to the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute, they are really good with high-profile athletes, and said they haven’t seen anyone with an ACL that has been so far ahead of schedule,” Clark said.
The injury occurred on March 11, and if the rehab continues to go as well as it has, he could be back on the court by the end of August.
“I started running two weeks ago, there is no projected date, but hopefully I can be back on the court at the end of August,” Clark said. “But, I’m not going to rush it. I’ll have to see what the doctors say and if it feels right mentally,” he added.
The path to signing a professional contract began with finding an agent. He eventually hired Eamon Walsh of Lee Basketball Services. Clark drew interest from teams in Austria and France before landing with Sigal Prishtina.
“Kosovo was the best offer for me to play in a high league,” Clark said. “The Balkan League is one of the top leagues overseas,” he added.
Sigal Prishtina won the league championship in six consecutive seasons from 2005-2010. Playing overseas will be much different than playing with the Leathernecks, however a few of his former teammates at Western have helped Clark in his journey.
“I’ve been talking with David Jackson and Louis Johnson (about playing overseas), it’s great to have those guys that you’ve played with help you out and get ready to pursue my dream,” Clark said.
Physicality will be the biggest difference in the game for Clark. “I’m coming in at 24 (years old) against guys that are five, six, and seven years (older) that have professional experience,” Clark said.
Clark’s best friend and former Northwestern point guard Michael Thompson has also given him advice. “I’ve been talking to him about the game and the things that I need to be conscious of over there,” Clark said. Thompson has spent two seasons playing in France.
Clark certainly experienced ups and downs at Western. The Gurnee, Illinois native redshirted his freshman season, 2007-08. That team finished 12-18. Losing seasons followed for the next three years.
“I’ve been through every situation you can think of,” Clark said. “An injury at the start of the season (2010-11), going through a rebuilding (of the program), coaching changes, and adversity,” Clark added.
The Leathernecks bounced back from a 7-23 season in 2010-11 to reach the Summit League Tournament championship in 2011-12. “I know how it feels to be at the bottom and to work your way to the top,” Clark said.
Clark wrapped up his Leathernecks career winning a regular season Summit League championship in 2012-13. The title-clinching win came at Western Hall in front of more than 5,000 fans.
“The atmosphere we had there with all the fans was awesome,” Clark said. “The way we started at Western being picked last in the conference to now ending my (senior) year winning a conference championship,” Clark added.
Now it’s on to a dream of playing in the NBA, but the next chapter will be set in Kosovo.
“(Sigal Prishtina) will be looking for me to step right in and play, they love my game and it’s going to be a great situation,” Clark said.
“I’m very excited,” Clark concluded.