Utah Utes basketball: Will Clyburn shows steady improvement
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Some basketball players are very good from the time they are small. They are always the best player on their team as they go through junior high and high school, before getting recruited by top colleges and ending up as the star player.
Then there's Utah's Will Clyburn.
The 6-foot-6 Ute basketball player has always been a good basketball player with good basketball genes, but he's the quintessential "late bloomer" whose best days still may be ahead of him.
Clyburn came to Utah this year from Marshalltown Community College in Iowa, after not being recruited out of high school and has quickly established himself as the top player on the Ute team. He leads the team in most categories, including points, rebounds, steals, 3-point shooting and minutes played. He may be the best JC player to come to Utah since Jerry Chambers back in 1964.
"In recruiting you hope the guys are better than you thought, that they develop faster than usual," said Utah coach Jim Boylen. "That's the case with Will. He's a great combination of athleticism, talent and ability to play the game. He's a young, developing guy with a big upside."
Coming off a 24-point, 12-rebound performance in a win at Wyoming, Clyburn ranks second in the Mountain West Conference in scoring at 19.3 points per game and is 37th in the nation. He's also second in the MWC in rebounding at 8.3 per game and in the top 90 in the country. He also ranks third in the league in free throw percentage (78.6), fifth in field goal percentage (46.3), ninth in steals (1.4) and fifth in 3-point percentage (43.6).
Heading into Wednesday night's game against New Mexico (6 p.m. Huntsman Center) Clyburn also leads the league in minutes played at 36.6 per game and is the first Utah player in 20 years to average more than 36 minutes a game. He's just too valuable to take out of the game.
"He's broken the myth that it takes a JC guy a year to produce," Boylen said. "He's making strides every day."
Clyburn grew up in Detroit and moved to the suburb of Romulus, where he played high school ball at Romulus High School.
His parents were both high school players and his father went on to play NAIA ball, while his mother had several Division I scholarship offers. Will actually met his future coach when Boylen was an assistant at Michigan State, but not to be recruited.
That's because back them, Clyburn wasn't the best player on his team, or even the second-best.
"We had a pretty good team," Clyburn said. "I had a teammate who averaged 16 points and went to Iowa State. We also had a center who averaged 12 points a game. We were pretty good. We made it to final four (in the state) and lost at the buzzer."
Clyburn averaged just 10 points a game as a senior, and wasn't recruited by any Division I schools. With no major-college suitors, Clyburn headed west and took his talents to Iowa where he played for Marshalltown CC.
"I had to work to get better," he said. "I stayed in the gym and became a gym rat. I kept working and good things paid off."
At Marshalltown, he led the team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman when he was an honorable mention all-conference selection and earned first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore when he averaged 19 points and eight rebounds a game, coincidentally the same numbers he's putting up this year against much-tougher competition.
"I had no clue that I could come in and put up the same numbers that I did in juco," he said.
Before his sophomore season, Clyburn got an idea that he could at least play major college ball after going to a "showcase" of 150 top juco players and playing well. He started getting letters and was recruited by schools such as Iowa State and Wichita State and other Missouri Valley schools.
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