Senior campaign made Clavell a leader

Gian Clavell’s final season on Colorado State has been special.

And not because of all the accolades the Mountain West Player of the Year has received, but because of what it took to get here.

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“It really has meant a lot,” Clavell said about his senior season. “I want to win the conference championship and I want to go to the NCAA tournament. I’m going to do my best to do it.”

After scoring 20.8 points and collecting 6.9 rebounds per game through 10 games last season, the Puerto Rico native was on his way to a career year. However, a broken bone in his non-shooting hand forced Clavell to watch the final 24 games of the 2015-16 season from the sidelines.

“I was hurt while I was on the way to one of the best years I’ve ever had,” Clavell said. “It was really difficult to have to sit out without knowing if I was ever going to be able to play for the team (CSU) again.”

There was a chance Clavell’s CSU career was going to abruptly end after his hand injury. But, the guard was granted a medical redshirt, allowing him to return to the Rams lineup the following season.

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Gian Clavell (3) tries to pump up the crowd after a foul call on SDSU in the 2nd half of the Rams thrilling win over the Aztecs. Clavell finished with a game high 18 points and 10 rebounds. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

Even once Clavell returned to full-health, the guard continued to face adversity. Clavell was suspended before the 2016-17 season for nine games following an off-court altercation with his ex-girlfriend. Again, Clavell’s Colorado State career was in jeopardy. And this time his character was in question as well.

“The people that really know me know what type of guy I am,” Clavell said. “I apologize for not making sense, I’m always laughing, I’m always loud, I’m always outgoing. That’s the type of guy I am. That’s me.”

Nevertheless, the guard returned to the Rams’ lineup after the first nine games.

Clavell has scored 19.5 points and collected 6.3 rebounds per game in 22 contests this season. In Mountain West play, Clavell has averaged 21.2 points per game to lead the conference en route to being named Mountain West Player of the Year.

“He’s matured as a person and as a player,” head coach Larry Eustachy said.

Since Colorado State’s roster shrunk to seven, Clavell has had to elevate every facet of his game.

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In the 15 games since Che Bob, Devocio Butler, and Kimani Jackson became academically ineligible, Clavell has rarely spent time sitting on the bench. The senior guard has played an average of 37.8 minutes per game in these contests, including four games in which Clavell played the entire 40 minutes.

The guard doesn’t seem to mind the big minutes. In fact, Clavell never wants to sit out and never asks for a breather.

“I will never do that,” Clavell said. “I will fight through it, I promise. I have too much pride, I wouldn’t do that. That’s why we have timeouts, that’s why we have media timeouts, that’s why we shoot free throws. Sometimes I’ll get a drink of water before free throws. He (Eustachy) asks me if I’m tired during timeouts and I look at him and say, ‘come on man.’ I will never do that.”

Somehow, fatigue has not gotten in the way of Clavell’s execution on the court.

“It’s hard,” Clavell said. “I can tell you right now that I’m tired. But coach (Eustachy) does a great job of making practice simple, short, and to the point. I’ve gotten a lot of sleep, water, and eating the right way. I can’t go out a lot and I take a lot of ice baths.”

It’s evident that Clavell’s offensive production has not decreased since his major increase in minutes. Clavell has scored an average of 21.6 points per game since CSU’s roster shrunk. The guard has also notched three double-doubles during the span.

While his offensive numbers alone are impressive, it’s saying even more that Clavell is able to consistently produce on offense while often having to guard the best players on opposing teams.

“It’s hard to sometimes guard the best player on the other team and then to come down and have to make shots, rebound and be a leader,” Clavell said. “It’s a lot to do. But I have the help that I’ve needed to tell me what I can do and get better at using the pressure. I use the pressure for my advantage.”

Being the best player on both ends of the court while also having to lead the Rams for the entire 40 minutes has put a lot on Clavell’s plate. The guard feels he has gotten better at handling all of this as the season has progressed. Clavell uses a particular method to keep himself calm and collected.

“I meditate every day, it helps your body recover,” Clavell said. “It’s a lot to take in. It can drive you crazy. It’s emotional, if you can’t handle it you will cry a lot. That’s why sometimes you see me sitting down at halftime meditating.”

Similar to Clavell, Eustachy has faced some off-court trouble this season after being accused of mistreating players in previous seasons, according to the Coloradoan. Despite the commotion, Clavell has stuck by his coach through all of the trouble. The two have developed a tight-knit bond throughout Clavell’s career. Clavell attributes a lot of his improvements on the court to Eustachy’s tough-love coaching style.

“The great ones love coach and there is a reason why,” Clavell said. “I’m not saying I’m a great one, but they love coach and he’s a great coach. He pushes you to be better in his way. Like when I made a basket against San Diego State, I couldn’t make a basket to save my life, he comes up to me and gives me a low-five. The connection is amazing. He’s a great coach.”

Just as Clavell has had confidence in his coach every step of the way, Eustachy never doubted Clavell when he had to step into an extended leadership role. When asked if the minutes will wear Clavell out in the Mountain West Tournament, Eustachy was far from worried.

“He’s a man,” Eustachy said. “He’s built like a man. He’s built for it. He only gets stronger as the game goes on. You look at somebody like Lebron James. He plays a lot of minutes and they play seven game series after seven game series. So I don’t find it being a problem.”

The confidence in Clavell’s ability to carry the team extends further than just Eustachy. Though the Rams are capable of having someone else step up every game, Clavell’s teammates acknowledge and trust his ability to lead CSU.

“When I first got here Gian kind of took me under his wing,” sophomore guard Prentiss Nixon said. “In my first couple of weeks he would take me to the gym. He was killing me in the post with things I couldn’t stop. Ever since then we’ve grown a bond. Last year he didn’t get to play due to injury. Even over the course he kept trying to teach me when I was playing. I think it’s helped this season.”

Clavell’s strategy in taking over a game consists of the tendency to frequently shoot the ball. Though the guard is usually efficient from the floor, sometimes Clavell has trouble finding the bottom of the net.

Either way, he always finds a way to get hot at some point, usually in crucial stages of a game. Even when Clavell’s shots aren’t falling, his teammates never get frustrated and remain confident in the guard.

“He’ll come up to me and ask what he’s doing wrong and I’ll tell him he’s thinking about it too much,” Nixon said. “Just shoot the ball. You’ve hit 40-footers, you’ve hit turnarounds, threes out of bounds, half-courters, all types of crazy shots. So a simple three is nothing, just jump up and knock it down. I’ve seen him hit crazy shots before so if he misses crazy shots in the first half I tell him don’t get rattled, just keep letting it go.”

Besides taking home a Mountain West crown and earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, Clavell has a couple of other things he’d like to cross off his bucket list in the final year of his CSU career.

“I want to be player of the year (MW) and I want to be first team all defense (MW),” Clavell said. “I pride myself on defense and I know that will make coach so proud.”

Clavell was named Mountain West Player of the Year on March 4.

Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz