While his high school rivals landed scholarship offers and became nationally known prospects, Montray Clemons toiled in relative anonymity, wondering when – if ever – his day in the spotlight might come.
As a high school player, Clemons was an overlooked standout for a middling Poly program. In the spring and summer on the AAU circuit with Cecil Kirk, he was overshadowed by those same highly regarded city players.
After a year of prep school at Mack Academy in Charlotte, N.C., Clemons' hard work on the court has finally paid off. The 6-foot-7½, 222-pound power forward committed to DePaul on Sunday, picking the Blue Demons over Auburn, Illinois, Tennessee and Texas Tech, among others.
"It feels good to finally know where I'm going," said Clemons, who will join Baltimore natives Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young on DePaul's roster. "There's a lot of opportunity there. When I was [in Chicago for my visit], some of the recruiting class was there. I like the style they can bring to the team. We're the face of rebuilding. We can come in and turn it around and win those games."In high school, Clemons was a double-double threat every night for the Engineers. While Poly's program was "shaky" at the time, Clemons developed his back-to-the-basket game playing the 4 and 5 against the toughest competition Baltimore City had to offer.
The course of Clemons' basketball path changed for the better when he joined Cecil Kirk at age 16. At the renowned East Baltimore recreation center, Clemons played behind Melvin – his future DePaul teammate – in practice, while continuing to grow that proverbial chip on his shoulder.
"I had a lot of people telling me, 'You wouldn't be able to play Division I ball' or 'the highest you could go is [to a] Colonial [Athletic Association school] or Morgan [State],' something like that. I used to believe it because we weren't winning," Clemons said. … "I got around Cecil, and [coach Anthony Lewis] said, 'If you play hard, you can get a scholarship strictly off of rebounding. You can be a defensive player.' When I started rebounding, my stock went up. Then [college coaches] found out I could score, and my stock really went up."
Lewis said Clemons became "a workaholic" obsessed with improving his game. After graduating from Poly last year, Clemons headed to Mack Academy to improve his SAT score and become a more well-rounded player. Both goals were accomplished.
"He's got athleticism," Lewis said. "He can put it on the deck and attack the bucket. He's got a good mid-range [jumper, can hit the] 22-footer. He's got size. He's a load inside and he can step outside."
Once Clemons met NCAA qualifying standards this spring, the recruiting process became "harder and harder" to navigate. DePaul, however, was one of the first high-major schools to express interest in him. With Melvin – the reigning Big East Rookie of the Year – already on board, there was a definite level of comfort with the Blue Demons.
"We grew up together playing ball," Clemons said. "Of course he wanted me on his team. Cleveland, that's my man. … But at first I was skeptical [playing on the team with him] because me and Cleve play almost the same position. I know [he's not] going to be sitting down. Once I talked to the coaching staff, they explained everything to me. [They said], 'You're a ball player. As long as you can play, you'll be on the floor.'"
Lewis said Clemons is a face-up 4 while Melvin is transitioning to the 3. The Cecil Kirk coach thinks Clemons will be "a great addition to DePaul."
"I think he's a quality kid and when the lights turn on he'll be ready to go," Lewis said. "I think he's going to be a major impact payer for a DePaul program that will be an impact [program] in the Big East."
Clemons said he fell in love with DePaul's campus during his trip to Chicago over the weekend. He's excited to reunite with Melvin, and finally reap the benefits of his hard work. It wasn't an easy road to Division I ball, but Clemons said he "wouldn't change" a thing about his path.
"Growing up, I wanted to be a Top 100 kid and have all that attention," Clemons said. "But going the road I did made me more humble and more hard working. I like being under the radar. Nobody expected me to be here, and now I'm going to shock the world."