The moment he walked into the Lakers’ practice facility, Lakers forward Earl Clark looked for second-year guard Darius Morris.
The two placed a $1,000 bet on the NCAA title game between their alma maters Louisville (Clark) and Michigan (Morris). And with the Cardinals winning 82-76 over the Wolverines in a game considered one of the NCAA’s best in recent seasons, Clark wanted to collect his earnings and talk trash.
“He tried to hide from me when I saw him in the weight room,” Clark said with a smile. “I’ll rub it in a little bit.”
Even if Clark admits that Michigan guard Trey Burke shouldn’t have been called for a foul after blocking Louisville guard Peyton Siva with the Wolverines trailing only by three points with just over five minutes remaining. Michigan could never cut the deficit to more than four points after that.
“Oh yeah, that was a block,” Clark said. “It was a good defensive play.”
Clark sounded happy enough seeing his alma mater win the NCAA title with his wife, daughter and son over pizza and wings. Not that he’s surprised. He said Louisville coach Rick Pitino told him after watching the Lakers’ loss Feb. 10 to the Miami Heat that he believed the Cardinals would win the NCAA championship.
Pitino also congratulated Clark for having a breakout season with the Lakers where he’s posted career-highs in points (7.7), shooting percentage (44.7), rebounds (5.9) and playing time (23.2 minutes) after mostly sitting on the bench in stints with Phoenix (2009-10) and Orlando (2010-2012).
“He told me he was proud of me and knows the hard work I put in here,” Clark, whom Phoenix selected 14th overall in the 2009 NBA draft. “He’s glad to see me get my opportunity and he said he’s happy for me.”
Clark credited Pitino for having the necessary mindset to have such a breakout season.
“It’s a dog eat dog world and nobody is going to give you nothing,” Clark said. “He taught me a lot about discipline and it was more than on just basketball. It was on becoming a man and knowing the people that love you. Most importantly, it’s about taking care of your family and taking care of business.”
Still, Clark couldn’t help but chuckle at Pitino’s expense.
As he went through post-game handshakes, Pitino ducked for cover at the sound of popped confetti, apparently believing it was gunfire.
“I thought somebody was after him,” Clark said. “I’m going to have to rewind that a couple times to laugh. I just texted him that it was a good game. When I see him, I’ll definitely joke about that.”
The Louisville alum has also remained vocal about the NCAA title to teammates.
“Once everybody’s teams started going down, not many could say anything,” Clark said. :I never said Louisville would win because I didn’t want to mess everything up. I didn’t fill out brackets.”
But Clark did place a bet. And as of Tuesday morning, he’s still awaiting the payment from Morris.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org