2022-23: 14-12 (9-5), 4th in GNRC, 1st Round of Playoffs (L to Lumberton (59-62))

Key Losses

Matthew Eaton – 8p, 3r, 2a, 1s – Graduated – Playing at Lake Raleigh Prep
Bryan Harris – 5p, 4r, 2a, 1s – Graduated
Sharod Sorrell – 4p, 3r, 2a, 1s – Graduated – Playing at Lake Raleigh Prep
Dana Thompson – 3p, 1r, 1a, 1s – Graduated
Will Kilpatrick – 2p, 3r, 1a, 1s – Graduated

Key Returners

Andrew Grimes – Jr – 17p, 7r, 2a, 2b
Anthony Walters – Sr – 9p, 2r, 3a, 1s, 48 3pm
Justice Mitchell – Jr – 8p, 6r, 1a
Jeremiah Henson – Jr – 4p, 1r, 1a, 1s
Xavier Longe – Jr – 4p, 1r

Key Newcomers

Qua'shaun Williams – Jr – Transfer from Triton
Cam Tucker – So – JV
Khalil Walters – So – JV
Braylon Merritt – Jr – Transfer from West Virginia

Projected Rotation

Starters: Ant Walters, Qua’shaun Williams, Xavier Longe, Justice Mitchell, Andrew Grimes
Bench: Jeremiah Henson, Khalil Walters, Cam Tucker, Braylon Merritt

Storylines

The Comets return 65% of their scoring and 61% of their FGAs from a year ago. Their returners shot 47% from the field and 33% from three last season. It took until the tail end of the year for Clayton to find their form, sitting around 0.500 for the majority of the season before finishing 7-4. With a non-conference schedule that includes matchups against New Hanover, Cardinal Gibbons, United Faith Christian, Sanderson, and Wakefield, look for this team to be tested early and often this season.

Coach Simmons will be able to do a lot while experimenting with lineups. He has two bigs who can both play inside-out, multiple guards who can handle either guard spot, and many versatile, athletic wings. This lineup versatility provides an obvious level of stability for the program as there are so many different ways they can beat you. They'll be one of the best shooting teams around, have the athletes to play fast, the floor generals to play slow, and a star in Grimes that they can turn to if all else fails. Defensively, they'll always have at least one high-level rim protector on the floor and will surround them with scrappy and athletic guards and wings. This defensive dynamic should make it difficult for teams that don't have five guys that can handle pressure on the court, something that very few teams in the triangle can consistently put out.

Junior forward and Liberty commit Andrew Grimes is the conference POY favorite going into this season. He was runner-up for both the POY and DPOY awards last season and has the clearest path to both awards heading into this year. He continues to expand his game and has developed into a capable shooter as well as a dominant face-up threat. He can get to his spots out of the low, mid, and high post with power, touch, and great footwork. Given the aforementioned flexibility within the Comet offense, there will be a healthy number of possessions that Grimes is used as a true wing, something that will be an enticing thing to monitor when projecting his future development.

The lone senior that will get significant minutes is 5'8' combo guard Anthony 'Ant' Walters. He's a great shooter, shooting 34% (48/140) from three last season. Despite his lack of size, he's very efficient in getting to his spots and making shots over height and length. He handles point guard responsibilities well, able to handle pressure and create advantages for his teammates at a high level. He can guard both the one and the two, which will allow Coach Simmons to play him at either guard spot, a role that I believe will fully unlock his abilities on both ends.

Rounding out the main part of their depth is their junior quartet, Justice Mitchell, Qua'shaun Williams, Xavier Longe, and Jeremiah Henson. Mitchell stands out within this group as one of the most improved players in the triangle area over the past 8-12 months. He's a legit 6'6' forward who has great touch and footwork, allowing him to get his shots off with ease within 15 feet. He's growing as a shooter, now able to leverage his shot and attack closeouts with consistency. Williams is the headline transfer within the GNRC, coming over to Clayton after spending the last two seasons at Triton HS in Erwin. He's very reliable at either guard spot, scoring it at multiple levels and understanding how to make the easy pass. Look for him to emerge as one of the more valuable members of this rotation as the season progresses. Longe and Henson are both knockdown shooters who understand their roles. Longe is more of a three-point specialist and should establish himself as one of the top catch-and-shoot threats in the class while Henson has more off-the-bounce ability in his game, able to get to his spots with a high level of comfort.

The two underclassmen who will get the most minutes this season are sophomores Khalil Walters and Cam Tucker. Walters is an athletic wing who has real explosiveness and burst. He's most effective when attacking closeouts and getting to the rim, although he has shown some promising shotmaking flashes. Tucker is a forward who does all the little things at a high level. He's a great defender who can guard up or down positions. He scores and rebounds well on the offensive end, able to work effectively out of the paint. He too has shown flashes of future shot-making and both of them are high-potential prospects to monitor moving forward.

This Clayton roster is equipped to win the GNRC as they have the talent, experience, athleticism, and depth necessary to do so. To win a conference that is this top-heavy, they'll need to see significant jumps from at least one of their juniors. Look closely for Mitchell, Longe, Henson, and/or Williams to take a significant leap in production. If they can get that leap, there's no reason why this team won't be competing for a conference title and multiple playoff wins come February.