Clark Kellogg is the man

by July 16, 2008

I got more texts and emails about the Billy-Packer-out-Clark-Kellogg-in news then I did about the Pau-to-the-Lakers trade. It’s not that the latter wasn’t a huge move relevant to my job, but friends and co-workers know three things about me: 1-I have a passion for watching college basketball on TV. 2-I hate Billy Packer as an announcer. 3-I love Clark Kellogg as an announcer (praise I have shared with him personally at Pacer games in the past, and which he accepted graciously.) Anyway, in my second issue as Editor-in-Chief (#107), I was only too happy to green light an Old-School on Kellogg, which Alan Paul did a beautiful job on (as usual). Anyway, while we continue to build an Old-School archive for the site, I figured now was a great time to run Alan’s story…Congrats to Clark and enjoy the piece.

—Ben Osborne


You know Clark Kellogg as one of college basketball’s finest television analysts. But did you know that he was once a star player in high school, college and—for an all-too-brief time—in the NBA? Read and learn.

By Alan Paul

Clark Kellogg is such a ubiquitous presence on TV during March Madness that hoops fans should be forgiven for thinking he was born with a mic on his lapel and insight into your favorite college team in his head. But of course, Kellogg didn’t just appear in front of a teleprompter. He was a standout on the floor before he was a star in the studio, with a game that was similar to his rap—solid, confident, intelligent, reliable, hard-working and amongst the best. A Cleveland native, Special K was a high school All-American, averaging 28 ppg as a junior and senior for St. Joseph and setting a still-standing Ohio record with 51 points in the ’79 state championship game. Kellogg went to Ohio State and was Big Ten MVP in ’81-82, his third and last season, after averaging 16.1 ppg and 10.5 rpg.

The Pacers selected the 6-7, 230-pound forward with the eighth pick and he was an immediate NBA success. He put up a 20-10 (20.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg) season as a rookie, establishing himself as an elite power forward. A force around the basket, Kellogg also had a reliable mid-range jumper to draw defenders out. He maintained his strong play for three years, leading the team in scoring and boards each season. Then it all fell apart.

A knee injury early in the ’85-86 season limited Kellogg to 19 games in his fourth year and turned out to be the beginning of the end. More surgery followed in the offseason and he played just four games the following year before hanging it up. He was only 26 and had no clear idea what he would do next.

“I had been a positive presence on and off the court and the Pacers made it clear they would like me to stay involved in some capacity,” Kellogg recalls over the phone from his Ohio home. “They had an opening on their radio broadcast and [GM] Donnie Walsh asked if I was interested. I wasn’t ready to turn basketball completely loose, so it seemed like a good way to stay involved.

“I’ve always enjoyed words and took communicating seriously so broadcasting just kind of fit who I am. It was a nice outlet for me to carve out a career path around the game.”SLAM: You were the Pacers leading scorer and rebounder as a rookie. Guess the NBA was an easy transition for you?

CK: It really was. I had played against pros in the summer since I was 15. A lot of Cavs stayed in Cleveland for the summer and I played with and against many guys, including Austin Carr, Campy Russell, Terry Furlow and Mike Mitchell. From 10th grade on, I played pickup games and in a really good summer league at Tri-C Community College. That helped me think that if I continued to work hard I had a chance to be a pro. Then I went to college and started right away, playing at a high level for three years. So by the time I got to the NBA, I was really well prepared.

When I got to Indiana, we had a veteran team and the guys took me under their wings. They were eager to help me get where they were but I was pretty grounded and humble. l wanted to be good. My old college teammate Herb Williams was there. We lived in the same neighborhood and he helped me get on my feet. He told me a lot about the team and the NBA and I was ready when I arrived at training camp. I probably worked harder than I ever had that summer before reporting. I wanted to hit the ground running and the opportunity to play was there because we were not a very good team.

SLAM: Another teammate was current Atlanta Hawks GM Billy Knight. A lot of people forget he was a great scorer.

CK: Oh yeah. He was fun to watch and that was the end of his career. I saw him drop back-to-back 40s and he couldn’t jump higher than two magazines. Still, he was 6-5 and could score in the lane. Incredible. He had a nice shot and was always in the 25 mph zone. He never hyped it up beyond 35 mph.

SLAM: What was your biggest strength?

CK: I stood out as an offensive rebounder. I could chase that orange down and I could get it in spots where other guys couldn’t. I was a good ballhandler for a guy my size so I could get places with the ball. I was a good, not great, perimeter shooter, but I had a lot of ways to score, including a lot of putbacks following those offensive rebounds.

SLAM: What was the key to your rebounding—leaping, positioning or strength?

CK: I was a decent athlete, not great, but I had excellent timing. And I was an excellent second jumper. I could get up twice while most guys went once. And I had good hands. If I got two or three fingers on it, I usually could get the ball.

SLAM: Whom would you consider the best athletes of your generation?

CK: Dominique Wilkins for one. I think early in his career he was more athlete than anything. From the second, third year on, he became a terrific basketball player combined with that phenomenal quickness, jumping ability and speed and that’s what led to a Hall of Fame career. Clyde Drexler also combined terrific athleticism and basketball skills, as did, of course, Julius Erving in his prime. But as phenomenal as they all were, guys like T-Mac, Kobe, Amare Stoudemire and KG have taken it to a new level and pushed the envelope. That seems to happen every 15-18 years.

SLAM: Were you intimidated by anyone when you came into the League?

CK: No. I had great respect for everyone but as you’re out there trying to prove you belong. You might get hung up for a second but then you’re trying to show what you’ve got. The power forward position was loaded with big, tough guys though the two forwards were still often interchangeable. There were plenty of guys my size playing big. I took some hard shots from Big Bob Lanier, who almost put me through the floor a few times, as did Darryl Dawkins. Calvin Natt was so physical and Phil Hubbard was a tough, aggressive guy.

SLAM: You were a high school All-American, the type of player whom today would be very hyped. How would that have affected you?

CK: I was quite hyped for that time period. I grew up in Cleveland when the Cavs were really struggling, so I was a huge story in Ohio and even nationally, though it was a fraction of what you see today. I would have been talked about as a potential one-and-done guy or a straight-to-the-NBA guy if such things were happening then. I also came out in one of the all-time best high school classes. We had Ralph Sampson, Sam Bowie, Isiah Thomas, Dominique and Terry Cummings.

SLAM: Can you imagine having gone straight to the NBA?

CK: Not really. As the oldest of five kids from a stable home, I was very well grounded. My dad was a Cleveland policeman for more than 40 years and my mom was a homemaker until I was in eighth grade. When I was a kid, all my grandparents were alive and in Cleveland, along with a huge extended family. So  I don’t know if I would have entertained going straight to the pros. I’m glad I never had to envision being 18 and going to the NBA. College was the natural progression and I enjoyed being in school and learning.

SLAM: How prepared were you for life after sports when you hurt your knee?

CK: I had gone through a transformation where I gave my life to Christ in November ’86, and even though I didn’t know exactly what I would do, I was pretty confident I would move solidly in a positive direction. I trusted God and sought out ways to be productive. I announced my retirement in August ’87 after six months of rehab and seeing that my knee just would never be able to respond to the pounding of being an NBA player. I stepped into that Pacers radio job, then got a call from a station in Cleveland offering me some Cleveland State games. I started out wobbly but was adamant about excelling, worked diligently and kept getting more gigs, working for the Atlantic 10 Network, Pacers TV, the Big East Network, ESPN and then CBS.

SLAM: How did you improve? The path isn’t as obvious as it is for a player.

CK: No, but some of the same principles apply. You have to want to get better. I didn’t want to be average. The key for me was being very clear with everyone I worked with that I wanted them to tell me what I needed to know and not what they thought I wanted to hear. Once broadcast partners, directors and producers knew I was serious about getting better and wanted candid criticism, I got it. I would ask them all, “How do you get good at this?” I watched tapes, listened to myself and tried to get better every day. You’ve got to prepare, and you’ve got to be you and it’s nice if you have a style or flavor that’s unique and genuine.

SLAM: Did you plan all along to focus on college hoops?

CK: No, it just kind of evolved that way. That’s what I’m mostly known for because the Tournament is one of the most unique and most popular events on TV. But I still do 25-30 Pacers games on TV each season.

SLAM: That puts you in a good position to describe the main differences between college and NBA games.

CK: Well, they both have 10 players and two rims, but from there, there are a lot of differences. The NBA is so much more fast-paced and athletic than college. There has been a narrowing of the gap because college games have more of an entertainment focus and more focus on the individual player than they used to, but it’s still much, much more of a coach’s game. A successful coach is going to be there much longer than any one player and they are the face of the program with the high visibility and salary, and all of that puts the ball in their hands. The players have a lot of that juice in the NBA.

SLAM: What’s your take on Greg Oden?

CK: He’s the real deal. I get over to practice a couple of times a month and I’m very impressed with his coachability and tenacity. I think he plays with an edge and he has a nice little competitive streak in how he tries to dominate the paint. Considering what he has done with one and a half hands, it’s quite amazing to consider his upside. He’s a game changer even if he doesn’t score and you can’t say that about too many guys. As an alumnus, I’m thrilled with the revival of Ohio State basketball. While I’m not allowed to cheer on air, I’m pulling hard for the scarlet and grey and I’m very proud of what I see across the entire athletic system there.

SLAM: To whom would you compare Oden’s game?

CK: Patrick Ewing or Bill Russell, in terms of athleticism and defensive ability and focus. Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were known more for their offense. And Hakeem Olajuwon was not as evolved in college because he was still learning the game. I think Greg has a chance to be discussed with all these greats when it’s all over.