Gian Clavell was on his way to making a potential run at the Mountain West player of the year award.
In the first 10 games of this season, the senior guard was averaging 20.8 points per game, which ranked 23rd in the country at the time. He scored 20 points or more in six of those 10 games, and erupted for 35 points against UTEP Nov. 28. He was also second in the team in rebounding at 6.9 per game. Clavell was the go-to guy on the Mountain West’s highest-scoring offense.
However, the CSU men’s basketball team suffered a huge setback prior to its Dec. 19 matchup with Kansas State. Clavell broke a bone in his left hand during practice and was ruled out for the remainder of the season.
“I knew in practice when it was hurting that I broke it because I felt something pop,” Clavell said. “I was like, ‘I need an x-ray because I think it’s broken.’ I kept practicing for probably the next 28 minutes. It was a lot of frustration — just a lot of emotions overall.”
Clavell had also been battling a torn labrum that he sustained last season and had been playing through ever since.
Once he was sidelined by the broken hand, it made sense to also treat the labrum at the same time. The season-ending injury was not only disappointing because Clavell was in the midst of a spectacular start to the season, but also because he would not be able to finish playing alongside his fellow seniors.
“It’s disappointing because I was having my best year,” Clavell said. “It broke me because I wanted to play with my seniors, too. This is my class: Tiel (Daniels), Joe (De Ciman), Antwan (Scott), Fred (Richardson) … I wanted to play with them, so that was disappointing too.”
For the past 19 games, Clavell has not been on the court, and hasn’t been splashing NBA-range three-pointers or using his athleticism to snag rebounds like CSU fans had become accustomed to seeing. But the guard from Caguas, Puerto Rico has been just as active within the team, acting like an assistant coach and mentor, both during games and in practice.
During games, Clavell makes his presence known from the bench, usually seated in the first seat to the right of all of the assistant coaches. He rarely sits down. He hollers out instructions and is invested in every single possession.
The key to his role, and as someone that others on the team look up to, according to Clavell, is to avoid showing an array of emotions and remain positive throughout this process.
“I cannot show them how I feel – if I’m sad, mad, frustrated – because they feed off me a lot,” Clavell said. “I’ve got to be as positive as I can, help as much as I can and mentor the young guys as much as I can. It’s a hard role to be.”
Clavell’s newfound role as coach and mentor is a difficult spot to be in, but one he has embraced fully. But the leadership role Clavell took on prior to the injury should not be understated, as it has made this entire transition and his impact on the team a little less surprising.
“Gian’s always been that way,” head coach Larry Eustachy said after a 77-53 win over Regis Dec. 29, 10 days after Clavell’s injury was announced. “If you notice, when he was healthy, he would get a clipboard and show the young guys how to play this, how to play that. He’s really bought into being an assistant coach this year. He’s very much into this program.”
In the Jan. 6 contest against UNLV, in which the Rams won 66-65, redshirt freshman guard J.D. Paige secured a critical loose ball in the final minute of the game to give CSU a much-needed possession.
Immediately after the referees granted CSU a timeout, Clavell’s commitment to his teammates was on full display as he went on a dead-sprint from the bench to the paint area to help Paige off the floor. Shortly after, Paige converted a three-point play to give CSU a two-point lead before the Rebels would tie it and John Gillon would win it on a free throw with 1.1 seconds left.
“He brings energy and intelligence,” Paige said of Clavell. “He’s always screaming out others teams’ plays, telling us where we should be on offense and defense. He’s really just another coach out there.”
This season was Clavell’s final year of NCAA eligibility. He is, however, hoping to apply for and be granted a medical hardship, which would allow him the opportunity to play once again next season.
Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @michael_roley.