Missouri State's Donovan Clay swoops in for a dunk during a game this season. (Photo by Jesse Scheve, Missouri State University)

Missouri State’s basketball team has the Missouri Valley Conference’s best offensive player in guard Isiaih Mosley and teammate Gaige Prim is the premier big man in the league. Another Bear might be the most versatile player in the Valley.

Donovan Clay does a little bit of everything for the Bears, whether it’s scoring, rebounding or defending. Prim compares his teammate’s skills to a handy tool that’s an easy reach away and ready to aid in multiple situations.

“He’s our Swiss Army knife,” Prim said of Clay. 

The statistics confirm. Clay is averaging 7.9 points, 6.9 rebounds (fifth in the Valley) and 31.8 minutes (first on the team). His turnover-to-assist ratio of nearly 2-to-1 is second-best on the team and his average of one blocked shot is fifth in the league. 

The Donovan Clay file

Name: Donovan Clay

Class: Junior

Major: Criminology

Stats: 8.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 32 minutes per game (as of Feb. 9)

Family: Son of Dexter Clay and Alicia Myers, brother of Ivy and Dominique

‘I like going out there and doing everything’

As Missouri State (19-8 overall, 10-4 Valley) continues the home stretch of its regular season with a Tuesday-night home game against Indiana State, the 6-foot-8, 216-pound junior transfer from Valparaiso is eager to apply his skills in so many ways. While he’s scoring less than his first two college seasons, he smiled while describing his role.

“I like going out there and doing everything,” Clay said prior to a recent practice. “I like to assist the ball and get my shooters wide open. Rebounding, of course, is something I like and when I’ve got to score, I go score. I’m just trying to be here for the team and do what we need.

“I feel like I can go out there and get a triple-double (points, rebounds, assists) if I needed to. Just whatever the team needs, I try to do.”

With Mosley and Prim alongside, Clay doesn’t often have to carry the load offensively as he often had to at Valparaiso. Mosley and Prim combine to average 35.5 points, so that leads Clay to focus on other facets of the game — though he can still score when needed.

During a recent home game against Loyola, the Bears missed their first three shots so Clay drove to the basket and drew a foul to get his team’s first points. Later, he grabbed a defensive rebound to lead a fast break opportunity. In the second half, he scored four straight points to cut Loyola’s eight-point lead in half.

Growth spurt changed Clay’s game

Missouri State’s Donovan Clay shoots a 3-pointer during a game against Evansville this season. (Photo by Missouri State University)

Clay attributes his versatility to a growth spurt during high school at Alton (Illinois) High, where he earned Class 4A all-state and St. Louis all-metro honors. He entered his freshman season as a 6-foot-2 guard and sprouted to 6-8 by his senior season.

“I feel like my natural position is a guard,” said Clay, who has brought the ball up the floor and led the Bears’ fast break at times this season. Coach Dana Ford has given him the green light to do so, without hesitation.

While he’s listed as a forward in the Bears’ lineup, Ford hesitates to label Clay with a specific position.

“We allow him to bust out and dribble when he gets a rebound,” Ford said. “We try not to give him a position offensively, we let him play inside and out. He’s gotten better at it, just letting him be the best version of himself and not putting him in a box. Sometimes that looks great and sometimes it doesn’t, but he’s been a great help to our team.”

Perhaps the most pride Clay takes is on his defensive ability. He’s often assigned to guard the opponent’s best scorer, whether it’s a strong post player or a quick guard. 

Clay’s preference would be to guard interior players because it’s less taxing.

“You don’t have to do too much moving, but guarding an outside guard you have to be mobile,” he said. “But either way, I like the challenge of guarding the other team’s best scorer. Doing that makes me a big piece of the team.”

Championship dreams brought Clay to MSU

Missouri State’s Donovan Clay shoots for two over an Evangel University defender during a game this season. (Photo by Missouri State University)

The opportunity to play with freedom was a big reason Clay chose Missouri State after he decided to move on from Valparaiso. He started 59 games in two seasons there, earning Valley all-freshman honors in 2020 and preseason all-Valley second-team honors entering 2020-21. He had 611 points, 317 rebounds and 122 assists in 59 career games with the Beacons.

In six career games against the Bears, Clay averaged 11.7 points and 6.2 rebounds. He said he liked the ways the Bears played and knew Mosley from a high school all-star game, where they were teammates.

“It was a big factor in my decision,” Clay said of the relationship with Mosley. “It’s definitely been an easy fit for me. The players took me in and the coaches took me in and showed me the ropes and I took off with it.”

A bigger reason to join Missouri State was an improved opportunity to contend for a Valley championship and make a run at the conference tournament championship in St. Louis. With only four regular-season games remaining, starting with Tuesday night’s home game against Indiana State, Clay said it’s time to build momentum toward “Arch Madness.”

“We want to finish out and get a 20-win season and then we’ll go to St. Louis and try to win the tournament,” Clay said. “I think we have a great chance. That’s the goal.”

Clay will be a key piece of the puzzle if the Bears are to make a three-day run and win their first Valley Tournament title since 1992 and earn the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 1999.

“Donnie’s a glue guy,” Ford said. “He does a lot of things for us and holds a lot of things together on both ends of the floor. He’s a rare glue guy.”

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton