<
>

In hearing, ex-NBA player Clark says he 'never played a game sober'

DANVILLE, Ill. -- An Illinois judge has tossed out a 2Ā½-year
prison sentence for former NBA player Keon Clark, saying he
deserves a new hearing.

Clark, 32, of Danville, said in Vermilion County Circuit Court
on Friday that he is an alcoholic and was drinking a half pint to a
pint of gin daily when he was playing pro basketball.

"I never played a game sober, unfortunately," said Clark, who
last played for the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns.

Clark said in court that he started drinking in high school and,
after he was drafted in the NBA by the Orlando Magic in 1998, he
drank at games during halftime.

"It just never stopped," he said.

Judge Michael Clary ruled Clark should get a new sentencing
hearing because he did not have legal representation when he was
sentenced in absentia Oct. 10 on drug and weapons charges. A new
sentencing date has not been set.

"A defendant has a right [to legal representation] at every
stage of proceedings, unless they waive that right," Clary said.
"There's no waiver by this defendant to not have a lawyer."

Clark was arrested Oct. 18 after U.S. Marshals got a tip that he
was on a bus leaving Houston. He was arrested on several Illinois
charges, including not having a firearm owner's identification card
and possession of a controlled substance. He had been in Texas at a
drug and alcohol rehab clinic, according to court records.

Clark's attorney, Tom Mellen, said Clark was finally facing his
problems in Texas.

A message left Saturday for Mellen by the Associated Press was
not immediately returned.

Clark remains in custody at the Vermilion County Jail.

Clark was originally drafted by the Orlando Magic in 1998, but
was traded to the Denver Nuggets, where he played for three years.
Clark also played for the Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings. He
played two games for Utah before being traded to Phoenix in 2004.