By Nathan Heintschel
After transferring colleges, experiencing three coaching changes and living in three different states the last two years, static is not a word to describe VCU redshirt-sophomore guard Chadarryl Clay’s college career.
She’s experienced a career’s worth of adversity, but through it all, Clay has been able to maintain her focus on the court and in the classroom.
The daughter of Ardarryl and Naketa Clay, Clay grew up with her siblings Ardarryl Jr. and Aniyah in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Chadarryl’s father sparked her interest in basketball when she was four years old. Her love for basketball grew each year when her dad would shuttle her to “And 1” tour exhibition games in Chattanooga. She says she admired Allen Iverson growing up because his game resembled those in the “And 1” exhibitions. Clay says she modeled her game after Iverson, and Jason Kidd inspired her to choose the No. 5 for her jersey.
Clay attended Girls Preparatory School beginning in sixth grade. She developed the skills to balance school and athletics early. Her parents stressed grades before basketball, and while she could get away with a couple B’s on her report cards, she needed to earn A’s to continue playing basketball.
It was in high school that Clay developed a love for numbers and the sciences. She excelled in chemistry early, and following an internship at a pharmacy, Clay decided she’d found her career path.
By the time Clay finished her senior year of high school, she had been selected as a member of the National Honor Society and had seen her basketball jersey retired. Along the way, Clay set multiple school records. She is only the second player in Girls Preparatory School history to have her number retired.
In high school, ESPN ranked Clay the No. 77 recruit in her class. Although she grew up a fan of local SEC powers Tennessee and Vanderbilt, it didn’t stop her from choosing Auburn. In addition to a strong basketball program, Auburn’s pharmacy school fit Clay’s academic requirements.
However, Auburn Coach Nell Fortner resigned near the end of the 2011-12 season, and Terri Williams-Flournoy was later selected to lead the program. Although Fortner had recruited and signed her, Clay decided to honor her commitment to Auburn.
Clay says her transition to college was eased by her time at GPS. She had already mastered balancing school and basketball. She just needed to adjust to the speed of collegiate athletics and college life. Finding time to get to the dining hall would be her biggest obstacle.
During her freshman year at Auburn, Clay appeared in 32 games, including one start, and averaged 3.7 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists. She earned distinction as an Auburn “Top Tiger” and was named to the SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll with a 3.7 GPA. She also started at point guard for Auburn in its summer tour of Australia and averaged 10.5 points per game in four exhibition contests.
Although she’d made strides as a freshman, Clay says she felt like Williams-Flournoy’s system wasn’t a good fit, and looked to transfer.
“I just wasn’t happy,” Clay said. “The style of play just wasn’t me at all. I transitioned to a different style of play that I knew that I fit in to. It was a better fit with Coach Marlene [Stollings].”
Stollings, who was named VCU head coach in 2012, held strong ties to the SEC and had recently served as an assistant at Ole Miss. Stollings, in the midst of installing an up-tempo offense, invited Clay to give VCU a look. Clay says she quickly developed a bond with Stollings and the VCU players. In addition, she was happy to learn VCU had a school of pharmacy.
Once at VCU, Clay wasn’t just studying chemistry in the classroom. She was enjoying it on the floor as well.
“I liked my teammates at Auburn, but here I love my teammates,” Clay said. “At Auburn we were teammates, so you’re forced to be friendly and get along with your teammates. Here, it’s not even the same. It’s more like family. Everybody’s close. We all hang out. You never see one of us by ourselves. We’re always together. That’s just the type of team it is. That’s what made it easier when Coach Marlene [Stollings] left, because I had my teammates.”
Clay sat out the 2013-14 season in accordance with NCAA transfer regulations, which allowed her to rehab a shoulder injury. As the season chugged along, Clay began to miss playing. The Rams would eventually win 22 games and receive a WNIT berth. All the while, Clay longed for a return to the floor.
“It was really hard,” Clay said. “It didn’t hit me at first. We had two home games and everything was good. I’m cheering on my team, this is what I do everyday. Then that first away game came, then another away game, then another away game, and I’m just sitting at campus all by myself. I was going crazy. Eventually I realized that the year was about to blow by, and I can’t sit back and be sad about it. I’ve got to be working on my game.”
When the team was on the road, Clay played pickup games at the Cary Street Gym to make sure she stayed sharp for her return.
“I would just play with the guys,” she said. “While they had a game I would go to Cary Street for a couple hours and have my own game, then go home and watch [the women’s] game online.”
Ultimately, sitting out allowed her to develop the mental aspects of her game better by listening to coaches and studying offensive and defensive schemes more in-depth.
Stollings resigned in April to take over Minnesota’s program and was replaced by Beth O’Boyle, who had recently led a revival of sorts at Stony Brook. Despite what would essentially be her fourth college coach in a little over two seasons, Clay took the change in stride. She says her year on the bench studying the game eased her transition from Stollings’ “Fury”, an up-tempo offense and 2-3 zone defense, to O’Boyle’s man-to-man defensive scheme and more balanced – albeit still up-tempo – offensive system.
The first portion of Clay’s collegiate career provided some adversity for Clay, but she is using her experiences to make her a better player. Clay is beginning to develop stability at VCU. Through the first 15 games of the 2014-15 season, Clay is averaging 4.7 points and is second on the team in both assists and steals. Her presence has helped the Rams to a 10-5 start.
Clay will have two more years of athletic eligibility at VCU. Once she completes her basketball career and her undergraduate degree, she says she looks forward to pharmacy school.