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Eric Peterson, Published February 28 2014

Well-rounded return to the Dragons

Moorhead - When Tarell Clark was recognized during senior night last weekend, the Minnesota State Moorhead guard was surrounded by family as he walked to midcourt.

Tayden, his 2-year-old son, stole the show as the toddler chased his mini-basketball across the Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse court.

“Any time he comes here and I get to see him, it always puts a smile on my face,” said the 23-year-old Clark. “It was a big deal to me. … My family is very supportive.”

Clark has been a big deal for the Dragons in his final season, after taking the previous two seasons off to get back on track to graduate. MSUM (20-7) plays Upper Iowa at 2:30 today in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men’s basketball quarterfinals in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“It’s been a grind,” said Clark, who played for MSUM in 2010-11 before returning this season. “I can’t say it’s been easy.”

The 6-foot-3 senior from Minneapolis leads MSUM in scoring (12.3 points per game) and rebounding (8.7 rebounds per game). Clark ranks second in the NSIC in rebounding average.

“He’s the best rebounder under 6-4 I have ever seen or I have ever played with,” said Dragons junior Jordan Riewer. “He’s just a freak on the boards.”

Dragons head coach Chad Walthall called Clark the best rebounder in the NSIC. One of the reasons is Clark’s ability to quickly elevate off the floor – not only on the first jump, but second or third as well.

“Another part of it is just the mindset of tenacity,” Walthall said.

Walthall added Clark has matured and become more coachable in his second stint with MSUM.

“I think he has more self-confidence,” Walthall said.

Clark said there were times in his two seasons away when he thought he would not play college basketball again. That has made this season more special for Clark, who helped MSUM win the North Division title and earn a No. 1 seed for the NSIC tournament.

The Dragons hadn’t won a conference title since 1982 before this season.

“For us to click and win a championship right away was a big accomplishment,” said Clark, who played junior college basketball for two seasons before coming to MSUM.

A smile comes to Clark’s face when he talks about his son. Tayden lives in the Twin Cities area with his mother, Jennifer Donovan, who is Clark’s girlfriend.

Clark appreciates the support he’s received from Donovan and the trips she makes to Moorhead so Clark can see Tayden.

“It’s a wonderful feeling any time I can be around my son,” said Clark, a 2008 Burnsville (Minn.) High School graduate. “It gets tough at times because I love him and I miss him a lot.”

Clark said Tayden has a small toy basket and is already getting used to making shots.

“He shoots that thing like crazy,” Clark said with a smile. “That’s his favorite toy is his little basketball hoop.”

Riewer was a redshirt when Clark first joined the Dragons program for the 2010-11 seasons. Riewer is glad Clark returned.

“I’ve seen the maturity level,” Riewer said. “Taking two years off, I think he has matured a lot as a player and a person. He’s more of a leader now.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com