• Colin McNamara

Clayton Southwick Is Happy With More Snow



Clayton Southwick may love Snow, but he did not intend to play with it for very long.

 

Heading into the 2021-22 season, Southwick enrolled at two-year Snow College as a 6' 8" forward, planning to spend a single basketball season there. A typical junior college one-and-done.

 

Snow, located in Ephraim, Utah, faced off against the No. 2-seed Dodge City Conquistadors in the second round of the National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament, but fell short, 82-65. Despite leading the Badgers to their first NJCAA National Tournament appearance in five decades, Southwick’s intentions didn’t budge. He intended to depart.

 

The big college offers started rolling in. A decision needed to be made. Southwick fell back on a valuable lesson learned: there is more to life than basketball.



Growing Up in America’s Last Frontier

 

The Southwicks are a close knit family. They moved to Palmer, Alaska when Clayton was two years old and continually kept their priorities straight: first family, then faith, but sports mattered as well. One of his earliest memories consisted of unwrapping a set of plastic golf clubs at his third birthday party. While he is still an avid golfer, Southwick always had a knack for basketball.


“I’m pretty sure a basketball was handed to me not too long after,” Southwick said. “Sports was basically our whole lives growing up.”

 

A two-year age gap didn’t stop him from dominating his older brother, Brady, on Nerf mini basketball hoops. He still claims to be undefeated.

 

Basketball was a winter activity in the Southwick household, while the 19.5 hours of summer-daylight were reserved for boating, fishing, camping and, most importantly, hunting. Impressively Clayton Southwick once got himself a moose, but Brady Southwick edged him out in this sport, nabbing a bear and a caribou.

 

“He got me on [hunting], but he can have that, I’ll take the [basketball],” Southwick said.

 

He started playing organized basketball in second grade, and was always the biggest and best player on the court. After Southwick grew six inches in the summer prior to his freshman year to 6’5”, Palmer High School Head Coach Jason Marvel was pleased to start the newcomer.

 

The next three years at Palmer were defined by extreme highs and lows. In his sophomore season, Southwick won the varsity starting quarterback job, but with only two weeks until the start of the football season, his leg got twisted during practice and he tore his meniscus. Surgery cut his season in half.

 

After struggling to get ready for the basketball season, Southwick led the Palmer Moose to their first winning record in two years and a regional championship, defeating their down-the-road rivals, Colony High School, along the way.

 

The injury bug struck again in his junior year. Southwick tore his other meniscus during the football season, but played through the pain this time, deciding to get surgery once the season concluded.

 

Back issues haunted Southwick’s final year as a Moose as he was forced to give up football for good. He played the entire basketball season with a herniated disc and averaged 19.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and four assists per game, carrying Palmer to a 19-8 record.


“My senior year, it was just triple team Clayton and then, you know, let everyone else score,” Southwick said. “It was kind of frustrating a lot at times, but it is what it is.”

 

As Palmer's all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocks, one would think Southwick would be a sure-fire Division I athlete, but this was not the case. Living in such an isolated state, it was tough for Southwick to get exposure. To attempt to solve that, he played with the Utah Basketball Club, an Amateur Athletic Union team that traveled all over the country, and that helped with his recruitment. Throughout his high school years, Southwick took multiple five-hour flights to Utah alone, in hopes of increasing his recruitment.

 

An Eye-Opening Experience

 

Southwick's high school and AAU play garnered an offer from Dixie State, a then Division II school located in St. George, Utah, and he looked forward to competing for playing time.

 

But Southwick’s bad luck crept back into his life. He required back surgery shortly after he graduated high school and the three-month recovery was extended by complications. Southwick redshirted his freshman season due to a herniated disc and was “back to square one.”


“That was really hard, but looking back, it was a good learning experience,” Southwick said.

 

Without stepping on the court for the Trailblazers, he packed his bags and headed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a mission trip with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Despite being an active member of his church, Southwick never planned on attending a mission trip. Instead, he wanted to pursue his dream as a college basketball player.

 

For the majority of his life, basketball was Southwick’s number one priority, whatever it took to make it to the next level, he was all in. The church mission trip changed those priorities.

 

“That’s kind of when I started to realize that there was more, bigger things [to life],” Southwick said. Seeing the way that faith and family impacted the lives of others resonated with him as this newfound appreciation and insight was incorporated into his daily life when he returned. He made family relationships and faith the new foundations of his life, opposed to basketball, and found time to attend church every week, regardless of his busy schedule.

 

As a missionary, Southwick was tasked with spreading the word of the Mormon church to new people and expanding the church’s membership. He recalled helping one family with its struggles.


“We met them and we were able to help them out, and just seeing the change from when we first met them to when they ended up getting baptized,” he said. “It's one of those things that you just sit back and you’re like wow, that’s what life’s really all about.”

 

Snow And More Snow

 

Dixie State promised Southwick that he could rejoin the team once he got back from his mission trip, but with six months remaining, he was informed that his spot was no longer available due to COVID-19 and the extra year of eligibility that each returning player was granted.

 

Though in no way bitter toward Dixie State, Southwick was scrambling with the upcoming season completely up in the air. That’s when Snow College stepped in.

 

“We’d heard that he wasn’t going back [to Dixie State],” Snow Athletic Director and then Head Coach Rob Nielson said. “So, we contacted him on his mission, contacted his parents, his dad, and let them know about our program.”


Clayton's father, Shane, also played at Snow and still believes that he has what it takes to take down his son one-vs-one.

 

“Don’t believe that. He lost that a while ago,” Clayton Southwick said. “He’d probably tell you that he can beat me, but there’s no way.”


But barely playing basketball over the course of two years can have a major effect on someone’s game, and things were no different for Southwick. His main source of exercise during his mission trip came in the form of weightlifting. Southwick bulked up and added more size to his already solid frame.



After arriving at Snow his coaches asked him to give the role of center a try. Though an unfamiliar position for him, but he used his skill set to his advantage.

 

“He’s so versatile that we can put him out on the wing and make it hard for people to guard him, if they want to put a big guy on him. Or, he can go inside if they want to put a little guy on him, and he’s got great moves inside,” Nielson said.

 

This versatility translated to the Florida beaches as well where Southwick’s squad took on Nielson’s in a game of two-hand touch football.


“He was bragging about how he was so good and I was like, okay, well, you be on your team and I’ll take my team,” Southwick said. “We just whooped them and we were letting them know [that] our team was way better and he did not talk to us for the rest of the day.”

 

“That wasn’t very funny, they beat us pretty bad,” Nielson said.


Most importantly, Southwick shined in his first year playing collegiate basketball, averaging 6.2 rebounds, the most on the team. And he, as well as all other Snow starters, averaged more than 12 points per game. This balanced attack not only led them to the NJCAA National Tournament, but to a first round win over Lee College.


Unfortunately, they lost the next day and Southwick played what he knew was his last game as a Badger. Amongst his offers was one from Bowling Green University, a Division I school that has produced plenty of NBA talent, including current Sacramento Kings starting center Richaun Holmes.


Then he took a step back, looked at all the factors, and recalled the lesson learned from his mission. Ultimately, he elected to "run it back" and opted for another year at Snow.



“If that decision was 100% basketball, nothing else, then I probably would be at Bowling Green right now,” Southwick said.


But it wasn’t. With faith and family the focal points of his life, Southwick did not feel comfortable moving more than 1,700 miles away from his loved ones. This decision was unexpected, but the experiences and lessons learned during his mission trip helped him look at life from a broader perspective.


“It didn’t feel right for my situation,” Southwick said. “It was kind of far from family and I [would] be by myself out there.”

 

He added, “I didn’t think I was going to come back, but all the pieces fell in the right place. The whole season I thought it was going to be one year. I told people I was going to leave, but I ended up making the decision to come back and now I’m ready for round two.”

 

Even with a new head coach, former Dixie State Assistant Coach Andrew May, at the helm, Southwick has full confidence that the Badgers will have an even more successful season, and if they don’t, he will carry on, because he knows there is more to life than basketball.


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