Thomasville, GA - Willie Clayton is a self-proclaimed 'Momma's Boy.' Everyone who knows him knows that. So when he committed to the Charlotte 49ers a couple of months ago, Thomasville Head Coach Ben Tillman couldn't believe it.
"I thought he would've stayed closer to home," Tillman said.
Clayton, who had offers from Florida State, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and others, chose the Atlantic-10 school because he said "it felt like home."
"It's family-structured. Coach [Alan] Major is like a father figure," said Clayton, a 6'8", 225 pound forward. "I wanted to come in as a freshman and come in with someone where I can show my talent."
"I think by the tie his college career ends, there are going to be a lot of schools saying 'I wish I would've offered Willie Clayton,'" Tillman said.
Clayton has plenty of talent. He played with Team USA's U22 squad this past summer for the third straight year. The trip to France, playing against teams from Serbia, Canada and Russia, allowed him to spread that experience to his teammates. Especially since this year Clayton was one of the top players for the national team.
"By the time my sophomore, my junior year playing on the team, my expectations got higher and higher," he said.
Those expectations are just as high for the double-double machine. But Clayton says he doesn't feel he has any weight on his back going into each game. He's simply relaxed.
"He always comes to the gym ready to play - do whatever it takes to win," Tillman said.
But basketball isn't everything to Clayton, a rarity in the age of "one and done" players. He plans on pursuing a criminal justice degree.
"They don't think about that next step. They don't think about 'Well, okay. Basketball is not here everyday, all day,'" he said. "But when I get my degree, my criminal justice degree, I can go in and be a homicide detective. That's gonna be there everyday and all day."
"He's the type of kid who once he sets his mind on setting a certain goal or setting the standard for himself, I think he's relentless at trying to accomplish that goal," Tillman said.
Right now, Clayton's goal is winning a state title.