While only playing one year in a Georgia State Panthers uniform, former basketball player Willie Clayton was determined to make the most out of his opportunities during his time with the program. While many may be unaware, Clayton is now establishing a name for himself playing professional basketball overseas for Cyprus Girne basketball in the EuroLeague.
“I’m playing professionally in Turkey right now; it’s the second league, and I’m really enjoying my time here,” Clayton said.
Clayton is 6,097 miles away from Atlanta, Georgia, so he has had to adjust to many things, including a six-hour time change. Surprisingly, however, Clayton has not been affected by a culture shock of any sort.
“I really haven’t been shocked so much, because I have always traveled overseas and stayed in different countries,” Clayton said. “I would say the food has to be the biggest culture shock to me living overseas. I’m used to getting up and eating a good southern soul food meal from my mother, and that’s not happening.”
Clayton also recalled asking his Turkish teammate one morning why everyone was somewhat taciturn while eating their meals—breakfast in particular.
“He stated to me that people don’t usually talk that much in the morning over here. So I’m sure Panther family, you guys know I love to talk, so that was very different for me,” Clayton said while laughing at the fact some may consider him to be long-winded.
The game of basketball is also played differently in Turkey as opposed to in the U.S. Clayton explained that there are many traits a successful basketball player must possess while playing in the EuroLeague. Clayton undoubtedly inherited those traits because this past season, he averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds a game.
“The game overseas is very fundamental. You actually have to know how to play basketball when you come overseas,” Clayton said. “It’s not so much flashy style basketball as it is in America. In America, you can survive on any team solely off of your athleticism. Overseas is a little different; You really have to think the game out when you’re playing overseas.”
During his lone year at Georgia State, Clayton said that he learned one key thing from head coach Ron Hunter which has helped him in being successful during his early career overseas.
“I just have to be me at all times! Don’t do things out of my character! And that’s how I have dominated overseas by always staying true to myself!” Clayton said.
At Georgia State, Clayton stayed true to himself both on and off the court, and it allowed him to develop a committed fan base that wanted to see him prosper. According to Clayton, the results have been the same in Turkey.
“The fans enjoy watching me play. The type of energy I bring to the game draws a lot of fans to me,” Clayton said as to how he has developed a relationship with Turkish fans. “They love the way I bring passion and commitment to the floor every night! I just enjoy having fans who come and support my teammates and me. It’s a good relief to know you have people behind you yelling and screaming for your success on the court!”
As for his coaches and teammates, Clayton receives that same level of support.
“I would say my teammates enjoy playing with me, because I understand their rules of the game. A lot of Americans don’t understand FIBA rules, so when they come over here, they struggle,” Clayton said. “My coach [Ahmet Gruel] that I have in Turkey right now is great. He knows the game of basketball, and I think what made me and him get along so well is the fact that he is a player’s coach.”
Clayton is undoubtedly finding success with his new team in Turkey, and he credits a higher power for providing him with many opportunities to further his career as a professional basketball player.
“I’m just enjoying my life right now with playing professionally. I have no complaints or worries. I’m just trying to leave a good mark on my career, so I can show my future kids what their dad did in his life,” Clayton said, as to what the future holds for him. “I’m a man of faith, so I want to thank God first for allowing me to grow into the man I am today.”
As for Panther fans, Clayton said “I want to thank all of the Georgia State basketball fans who supported me throughout my time as a panther! G…S…U!”
Willie Clayton’s senior stats as a Panther
- Averaged 6.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as a senior.
- Grabbed 237 total rebounds as a Panther
- Finished his senior year as one of just 12 active players with 1,000-plus career points and 900-plus career rebounds
- Scored the 1,000th point of his career on Feb. 13 against Coastal Carolina