Gian Clavell raced home when school let out on March 18, 2010. The tenth-grader had a game to catch: his brother’s March Madness debut.
Gilberto Clavell III had led Sam Houston State to a Southland Conference title and an NCAA tournament bid.
“They cancelled practice just to see him play,” said Gian, now a junior guard at Colorado State. “Everybody was tuning into my brother’s game. He had 17 points in the first half. I was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s playing really good.’”
Gilberto finished with 23 points and seven rebounds. The upset-minded Bearkatz fell short in that game against Baylor, but Gian, less than two years removed from life in Puerto Rico, had seen all he needed to want to follow in Gilberto’s footsteps.
The Clavell brothers hail from Caguas, a Puerto Rican city in the valley about 20 miles south of the capital San Juan.
“It’s lovely back there,” Gian said of his birthplace. “We’ve got movies, malls, a bowling alley. You can get up on a roof and look out at the mountains. The only thing we’re missing is the beach.”
Caguas is home to middleweight boxing champion Miguel Cotto and has also been a baseball hotbed, but the Clavell brothers fell for a different sport.
“I was going to play baseball, but I was scared of the ball,” Gian laughed. “I started playing basketball and it was so natural, right away. My first 30-point game was when I was four (years old). My team had 36, and I had 32 (of them).”
When Gian was in sixth grade, Gilberto moved to the United States to pursue his basketball career. At age 15, Gian followed suit.
Basketball translated just fine, but a broken foot he suffered during his senior year at Hialeah Gardens High School in Miami set him back.
Despite the untimely injury, Gian found an opportunity at Northwest Kansas Technical College in Goodland, Kansas.
He played there for two years under the tutelage of head coach Jase Herl, earned an associate’s degree as a medical assistant and became the school’s first NCAA Division-I signee after averaging 16.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in 2013-2014.
Herl said that Gian brought leadership with him when he arrived. What he lacked was English.
“I told him if I heard him speaking in Spanish he was going to run,” said Herl, who stays in contact with Gian. “Basically, we forced him to use English.”
Herl made him work hard on and off the court, so Gian wanted to make sure his next school would do the same.
Gian signed with CSU because he trusted head coach Larry Eustachy and assistant coach Ross Hodge to keep pushing him every day. It has been a baptism by fire thus far, with Gian facing the daily task of defending all-conference guard Daniel Bejarano.
“I have to guard DB every day in practice, so you have to get better,” Gian said. “He’s going to score on you no matter what, but I like to guard him because he makes me better. I look up to him.”
In turn, Bejarano said he has taken Gian under his wing.
“I’m just trying to get those guys better and the only way is to not go easy in practice,” Bejarano said. “Off the court, I tell him everything I know. On the court, I’m not his friend. I go after him.”
Bejarano said he would not be surprised if Gian cracks the starting lineup this season, and that’s high praise considering the depth on this year’s roster.
“His English is not 100 percent, but that’s not stopping him, and I really respect him for that,” Bejarano said.
The language barrier has been broken down, and Fort Collins is more of a pleasant surprise than a culture shock. Gian was taken back by the 300 days of sun, especially compared to the frequent rain and humidity where he grew up.
He said he even loves the snow, though that might change after he experiences a full Colorado winter. Regardless, Gian is a Ram and Fort Collins is his new home.
Gilberto succeeded at the college level. It’s Gian’s turn now, and he has not lost track of what got him this far.
“I’m a scorer,” he said. “That’s what I do.”
Expect the kid from Caguas to leave his mark at Moby Arena sooner rather than later.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @emccarthy22.