He hates losing games and detests the post-game mood after the setback.
But he relishes the opportunity to walk his girls’ basketball players back onto the court the very next day.
And Indian River High School girls’ hoops head honcho Roger Clay considers every second of a practice and a game as a teachable moment as he cultivates a winning attitude and culture.
Listening to him speak with his student-athletes is like hearing a skilled orator putting the important experience of learning and playing basketball into proper perspective. He tirelessly preaches hard work, maintaining a commitment to growing one’s game for individual and team success, and the steadfast patience that must be part of each player’s psychological makeup.
“The losses are definitely tough,” said Clay after a recent practice. “One thing I’m learning as a coach during this journey is the virtue of patience. It takes some time learning how to compete at the varsity high-school level while developing the necessary skills.”
In addition to preaching the virtue of patience, Clay said he wishes he had more student-athletes with whom he could share that message. Last year’s total team (varsity and junior varsity) had only 10 players, while this season’s squad has only 12.
Those diminished numbers means there is, at best, a limited opportunity to field a junior-varsity squad that affords developing players much-needed in-game court time with which to grow and improve their skills. It also robs the varsity of critically-needed depth for the purpose of sending reserves onto the court to provide quality minutes while the starters recover with a swift breather.
This year’s team, which is 1-5 overall and 1-3 in Henlopen Conference competition heading into this week’s games, features freshman phenom Mya Whittington, who leads the team in scoring and minutes played. Her teammates include fellow freshmen Chloe Magee, Cheyenne Caudill, Nicole Burns and Donne Henry, sophomores Alex Davidson, Alaina Strates and Lindsey Brewster, juniors Aniyah Collins and Scarlett Dunn, and seniors Fatime Useini and Le’Anya Garrison.
“It’s tough seeing what the future holds for this group of girls and what they can accomplish on the court, without wanting it to happen for them right now,” said Clay, who took over the girls program last year after the death of coach Pat McCrea. “If our core group of ladies really commit to the process, I’m sure they can accomplish great things for Indian River girls’ basketball.”
In Clay’s first season at the helm, in 2019-2020, the Indian River ladies posted a respectable 7-8 overall record, including a 3-0 mark to open the season. They also earned a playoff berth, highlighted by their 38-21 triumph over Milford. The Green & Gold’s season ended with a 61-23 setback to Mt. Pleasant.
An active member of the Delaware National Guard’s 126th Aviation MedEvac Unit since 2013, Clay entered the teaching profession through the U.S. Army’s “Troops to Teachers” initiative. He began his career in the classroom and as a coach at Seaford Middle School, where in 2016-2017 he became the cross-country head coach. In 2017-2018, he joined the faculty at Indian River High School as a special-education English instructor. He became the boys’ hoops junior-varsity head coach in 2018.
His coaching philosophy focuses on one’s willingness to work hard and overcome challenges.
“I believe that all student-athletes are capable of achieving success” in spite of whatever challenges they face, he said. “But it’s those who put in the extra work that” achieve success and “the accolades of their sport.”
Clay participated in football, basketball and tennis at C.A. Johnson high school in Columbia, S.C., before graduating in 2001. Five years later, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. That same year, he also earned his master’s degree in teaching from Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa.
He has been impacted by some very strong individuals, including several outstanding coaches.
“One that stands out the most was my first coach ever, Curtis Clack, the girls’ head basketball coach at Howard Tech. He taught me how to play several different sports throughout my youth while I was growing up,” said Clay. “He shared the love of different sports, such as basketball, football and baseball, by teaching us how to play each one the right way. He also served as a great role model for the young men in our community, and taught us more about life and how to be young men during that time period.”
The IR boys’ junior-varsity head coach in 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, Clay has learned one important lesson during his first few seasons as a mentor.
“I have learned that if you care for the players the right way, then they are more willing to endure their toughest trials with you,” he said.
And that is why the coach continues to convey one of his favorite messages.
“No matter what happens, keep on playing!” he concluded.