The transition of a basketball player


Jordan Auker

Clayton Hughes, junior forward, drives to the basket against Bellarmine University Jan. 11 at the Screaming Eagles Arena. The Eagles lost 65-79.

Nik Cunningham, Sports Editor

Clayton Hughes started playing basketball seriously in high school and in one summer was able to gain 17 inches in his jump as a result.

“I was born athletic,” Hughes said. “One summer I just put in a lot of work and gained like 17 inches on my vertical in like eight weeks and became known as the bounciest white guy in Tennessee.” 

Hughes, a junior graphic design major, came from Jackson, TN and despite his improvement, in one summer his high school team was never very good.

“In my freshman year we won four games and beat our rival school who went on to almost win state that year,” Hughes said. “So that was probably the highlight of my year because we’re crazy rivals.”

Hughes’ family really loved sports but that isn’t what initially drew him to basketball. Instead, it was his friend, Eli Parker. Parker and his father played basketball and even started a little travel team that Hughes was on.

“Him and his dad, we kind of started playing together all the time and would work out,” Hughes said. “He started like a little travel basketball team and that really made me find the love of the game.”

Hughes said the things keeping him motivated are the bonds he makes with his teammates. 

“(I like) the bond that I build with each team I played with so far throughout my basketball career,” Hughes said. “It’s really that’s what keeps me going through the tough practices, tough stretches where you’re losing. You got guys on your side that, win or lose, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day, you get to be with them and that’s all that matters.”

Hughes went to Indiana State University before coming to USI and Rodney Watson, the head coach for the men’s basketball team, told Hughes exactly what he was looking for in a basketball player and that is what he got.

“So when we recruited him, we told him specifically that he had to accept a very similar role to Jacob Norman,” Watson said. “We needed a guy with strength and length and that was committed to defending the best player on the floor. That would put himself and give himself completely to the team and he’s done a great job with all those qualities.”

Hughes said his transition into USI was difficult at first because of all the new people he was working with but he’s felt really welcomed on the team and USI.

“(The transition) was tough at first, but I had to it was weird to get accustomed to the place,” Hughes said. “Different guys on the team and whatnot and the coaching styles, but I think I was really welcomed with open arms.”