Rookie’s success off bench key part of Gael’s top record in MAAC


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Clayton received interest from top football programs such as Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Tennessee. 

Giovanni Paolo Tagliafierro, Sports Editor

Freshman guard Walter Clayton Jr notched his second-consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week award of the season on Jan. 3, a season which has seen him become an integral part of Iona’s rotation.  


Clayton Jr’s highlight performance of his young career took place under the bright lights of the UBS Arena on Dec. 23 against Delaware in Belmont Park, NY. Iona put up a poor first half offensively, with the freshman only notching three points in the opening period.  


Things quickly turned around in the second half, as Clayton Jr exploded for 18 of his 21 total points and helped turn Iona’s offense from sluggish to ferocious as the team poured in 51 points in the period.  


Sixteen of Clayton Jr’s 21 came from beyond the three-point line, only missing one of his five attempts from long range. He shot an impressively efficient 8-11 overall in the game.  


He also added five boards, two steals and a block to his eye-catching stat sheet. These numbers were enough to gain the attention of the MAAC, which awarded the guard his first Rookie of the Week honors.  


Iona Head coach Rick Pitino praised Clayton Jr’s development and maturity in a postgame press conference following the Delaware matchup, comparing the freshman guard to some of the talented players that he has coached in his previous tenures at Kentucky and Louisville. 


“I put him up there with some of the real good ones I’ve had,” Pitino said. “He’s a 6’3” point guard, he shoots it well, he’s unselfish, he has a great attitude, and he’s a willing learner I put him in the class with all the great ones I’ve had at Kentucky, all the great ones I’ve had at Louisville, because of his attitude. His attitude matches his game.” 


His game against Delaware featured Clayton Jr’s highest scoring output, but the rookie has shown throughout the season that his skill set allows him to do many more things on the floor than just score.  


Clayton Jr followed up his effort against Delaware 12 days later in a home contest against Marist. The guard stuffed the stat sheet again, recording 10 points as he drove to the lane and created contact, resulting in 6-7 shooting from the free throw line.  


Scoring, contrary to the Delaware matchup, was not the centerpiece of his performance against the Red Foxes which secured him another ROTW award. Clayton Jr dished out four assists, grabbed three rebounds and showed his defensive skill by notching three steals in the 21 minutes he was on the floor.  


The guard’s game relies heavily on his athleticism, as he showed in the Gael’s biggest win of the season earlier in the campaign against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Clayton Jr once again displayed his ability to drive to the hoop and force fouls in the paint, getting to the line six times. His poise in the second half against a top 15 team in the nation showed through as he converted on five of those attempts.  


Clayton Jr, a native of Florida, was highly recruited by top Division I programs for football out of Lake Wales High School. He attributes much of his defensive skills to his prior football career.  


“It helps a lot with my instincts,” Clayton Jr said in a press conference. “It helps me see something before it happens.”  


Clayton Jr is now fully focused on basketball, and will look to make an even bigger impact on the court for the Gaels as the team heads towards the MAAC Championship Tournament as the top seed in the conference.