BRIDGEWATER, Va. - On Wednesday evening Clay Michael returned to Nininger Hall, but this time he walked to the court from the visiting locker room when Shenandoah University played the Bridgewater College Eagles.
The former Bridgewater College standout, who works as a consultant in northern Virginia, spends his free time as a volunteer assistant coach on Rob Pryor’s staff at Shenandoah.
Michael graduated from Bridgewater in 2006 with a degree in history and political science. He turned in four solid seasons on the hardwood and finished his career with 1,078 points, one of 32 players in program history to surpass the 1,000 point mark. He was also a stalwart on the boards, pulling down 744 rebounds to rank No. 7 on Bridgewater’s all-time rebounding chart.
Bill Leatherman, Michael’s coach during his days at Bridgewater, believes his former player has the attributes to be a good coach.
“The thing about Clay was the fact he was a very intelligent person both in the classroom and on the court,” Leatherman said. “He understood the game so well and he was very coachable. He really understood the team concept and he bought in to what we were trying to do.”
Michael was a solid contributor as a freshman and developed into one of the top players in the ODAC. As a junior, Michael teamed with guard Ricky Easterling to give the Eagles a strong inside-outside combination. The 6-7 forward almost averaged a double-double for the season, scoring 12.2 points and grabbing 9.7 rebounds to help lead the Eagles to a 17-9 record.
As a senior, Michael was the leader of a young Eagles squad that finished with a 9-16 mark. Michael averaged 16.2 points and pulled down 7.9 rebounds to earn second-team All-ODAC honors for the second straight season.
"Early in his career Clay was reluctant to take shots," Leatherman recalls. "We finally were able to convice him that we needed him to score. He was a very good player for us."
The Inwood, W.Va. native was also the epitome of what a student-athlete should be as he was named the ODAC Men’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year during both his junior and senior seasons.
After playing one year of professional basketball in Germany, Michael had been away from the game until joining the Shenandoah staff.
“I had been away from basketball for four years or so and this gives me a chance to be involved with the game,” Michael said after the Hornets fell by a score of 80-57 to the Eagles on Wednesday. “I would rather be playing, but I enjoy coaching. It’s been good.”
Michael still appears to be in playing shape and admits Coach Rob Pryor lets him mix it up at times in practice. “Every once in a while Coach Pryor lets me on the court with the guys,” Michael said. “We don’t have a lot of size so Coach lets me get out there if he wants someone to block a shot or challenge shots inside.”
The Hornets joined the ODAC this season and are still looking for their first conference victory. Following the loss to the Eagles, Shenandoah is 3-13 overall and 0-7 in the ODAC.
“It’s been a tough season,” Michael said. “We’re a very young team and a lot of the mistakes we are making will be rectified with more experience. It’s a process. You have to keep working hard and play through these tough times. Hopefully, we will continue to grow as a team and by the end of the season be able to get some wins.”