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Volleyball or basketball, Clayton finds a way to reject opponents
Out of high school, Tanner Clayton had what he called an easy choice.
Although he played both volleyball and basketball, choosing volleyball was easy — he was not only heavily recruited, he was a member of the U.S. Boys' National Team that placed 10th at the World Championships in Italy and was named USA Volleyball's 2009 Indoor Team of the Year.
But after a year at Southern Cal as a middle blocker, he made a change.
“I didn't do so well at USC, came home, started playing basketball again, and decided to stick with it,” the 6-foot-9 sophomore power forward said.
And it's paying off for him and the Arizona Western men's basketball team. He's averaging 10.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks to have the Matadors 14-4 overall and in a three-way tie for first in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference at 9-1, with a game against 9-1 Mesa coming Wednesday.
The Matadors lost two of their key big men last year — Renan Lenz went to Utah, where he has played in just seven games this year, all off the bench; and Mateus Oliveira went to Southeastern Oklahoma State University to reunite with former Matador coach Kelly Green.
“(Clayton's) got a really good jump shot and he's a different type player, but he's done a really good job replacing Renan,” second-year coach Charles Harral said. “I feel like Carlos (Perez) has been able to improve and replace Mateus from last year, and we didn't really have a replacement for Renan. But I think Tanner has done a really good job of doing that. He's blocked a lot of shots and hit a lot of open shots from the perimeter to help us be (14-4).”
The Matadors have other options at center, but really just the one power forward, Harral said. That makes Clayton's play all the more crucial to the success of the Matadors.
“He's kind of the one 4-man that we have on the team. We don't really have another 4-man,” Harral said. “We've tried Will (Marshall) at the 4, I played Charles (Weekly, a Kofa graduate) at the 4 the other night, and they're both real good basketball players, but Will is really a 5, Charles is really a 3. We don't have anybody else besides Tanner who can play the 4 position, that can block shots like him, that can shoot it from the perimeter like him.”
Clayton took a year off from sports after leaving USC. Harral heard about him from not only his club coach, but from the father of another of his recruits — Anthony Alston. Clayton and Alston went to rival San Diego-area high schools. Harral said he liked what he saw at a workout and signed him after a campus visit.
The result is a better season than Clayton said he expected.
“I hadn't played for two years, so I wasn't really sure how it would go,” Clayton said. “I didn't really know how the season would go coming back from volleyball.”
Harral said he's been very impressed with Clayton's blocking, which was his strong suit as a volleyball as player. Clayton said blocking in volleyball has a lot in common with a basketball block.
“The concept is the same, and a lot of the footwork is the same in basketball and volleyball,” Clayton said. “Jumping, obviously is a big thing. But other than that it's pretty different.”
Clayton — who according to Harral has a 4.0 GPA in his first semester at AWC — said he's pleased with the season and hopes he can continues the Matadors' push back into the playoffs.
“Everything's clicking,” Clayton said. “I'm playing a lot better than I did in high school.”