COVINGTON, GA — For Ryan Clements it’s been different school, different level, same result.
Fresh off a 26-point,16-rebound performance that helped Peachtree Academy take down defending GICAA state champion Arlington Academy this past weekend, Clements finds himself in a similar position that he was in this time last season — one game away from playing for a state title.
Last year, it happened while Clements was playing out his junior season at Heritage-Conyers where he averaged 8.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and two assists and two steals per game for the Class AAAAAA Final Four qualifying Patriots. Heritage fell to Gainesville 102-86 in that semifinals matchup.
Meanwhile, over in Covington, the Peachtree Academy Panthers were waltzing through their own Final Four journey. They too were stopped in the next-to-last game of the season, falling 79-47 to the same Arlington squad they dispatched last weekend.
This year, Clements has traded in his Heritage red, white and blue for the Peachtree maroon and white. He’s moved on from GHSA ball to the smaller, private school-dominated Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association, but all you have to do to figure out if he’s satisfied for where his basketball journey has taken him over the last 12 months is visit his Twitter feed.
really bck where I was at last year. Final 4️⃣ me . 🕺🏽 last Dance— Ryan Clements (@RCClements0) February 19, 2019
Some have, no doubt, questioned why he chose what some may consider a lesser brand of basketball during a pivotal senior season that, for many players, is the make or break campaign for attracting college scholarships. But Clements has a quick and sure answer for such doubters.
“I’m not a believer in that it’s all about where you are, but I believe that it’s all about what you do while you’re there,” Clements said. “So I’ve believed that no matter where I’m at, I know I can play, and if I play the way I’m capable of playing, I know I’ll get coaches to find me and reach out to me.”
And it’s been happening. Clements’ migration from the Conyers public school to the Covington private school has put a different sort of spotlight on his game.
During the regular season, Clements averaged 21.5 points per game, along with 15 boards, five assists and five steals per contest. He elevated his game in the postseason, with a 28 points per game average.
That’s a major uptick from his last year at Heritage where he played junior season in the role of distributor on a team with three double-figures scorers in then-senior Josh Archer and juniors Trelan Scott and Josh Guilford.
And though he said it was a difficult decision to move on from possibly forming a formidable big three with Scott and Guilford in his senior campaign, Clements said the shift was a necessary one, academically as well as athletically.
“It was hard, but I had to do it,” he said. “This year my family and me just made a decision to come over here for a better basketball opportunity, for me to advance my game more, and also educational wise, to give me more college preparation in classes. It’s been more rigorous. More difficult courses, but I really feel like it’s preparing me for my college career in the classroom and basketball wise.”
Peachtree head coach Terry McRae said the way that Clements fell into his program’s lap was a literal answer to prayer.
“This is a Christian school, so here we do see things a little differently, maybe,” McRae said. “We see things through the way God puts things in place. I was looking at our roster, trying to figure out how I was going to get what I needed to get my offense going the way it needs to be. The way God works, Ryan transferred into the school. He wasn’t recruited, and I need to make that clear first and foremost. He just came here, got accepted and I didn’t meet him until the day of our first game.”
From there, McRae got the chance to have conversation with Clements. Athleticism was never a question, so McRae grilled him on specifics to see if he had the mindset to be a good fit for his program.
“I told him that I’d heard he was a guard and asked if he could do certain things,” McRae said. “He told me yes. I asked if he could do this or that from a point guard position, and he said, ‘Coach, I can handle that.’ And then I told him, from there, if you have your shot, take your shot.”
The more McRae learned about Clements, both as a player and a person, the more he started to believe that not only would Clements be a help to Peachtree, but Peachtree could be a help to Clements.
“I’m not talking bad about the way the system worked where he was, but I don’t know if it truly allowed him to explore his game,” McRae said. “It was like he was kind of in a box. Coming here to play basketball, he was coming into a place where it was a system of position less basketball.”
And Clements will be the first to tell you that the change has brought out of him a different kind of baller.
“This year I’m playing more of a scoring role,” Clements said. “On last year’s team with Trelan Scott and Josh Guilford, those guys are both great scorers, but they had to have to ball to score, so it was kind of like, let me try to help get them going. But here, the offense is more open. Everybody’s swinging the ball more. Everybody’s fine with knowing who to go to in certain situations.
“At Heritage, everybody knew that it would either be Josh or Tre, but here it’s spread out and really everybody can take the bigs shot.”
To be sure, Clements has made more than his fair share.
A week before knocking off Arlington, Clements erupted for 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists to help Peachtree defeat Covington Academy for the its third straight region championship.
He had a similar performance last month in a back-and-forth battle, hotly contested regular season battle with Covington Academy. And in Saturday’s Arlington game, aside from his points production, Clements was a calming presence, showing off his leadership skills when things got hairy against the defending champs.
“We were up by 13 points against Arlington, and they came back on us,” McRae said.
“They actually went up by two,” Clements added.
“But we came back together and said, ‘Hey, let’s get back to doing what we’re doing. They’re not stopping us. We’re stopping ourselves,’” McRae said.
And the coach gives a lot of credit to Clements for helping bring that levelheaded quality to this team that it perhaps lacked in previous years.
“Our guys have learned to go through adversity, and Ryan’s a big part of that,” McRae said. “We were able to fight back. Last year, I don’t think this team has the ability to do that. Ryan is like a coach on the court. He’s an encourager and he can help guys when they make a mistake to pick their heads up. When he talks to them, it’s almost like they don’t even realize they made a mistake. But me as a coach, it’s my job to help them know they made a mistake. But Ryan provides that balance on the floor.”
His work isn’t going unnoticed either.
Clements said he’s gotten several basketball scholarship offers from NCAA Division II and Division III schools. One of those schools, Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, is high on the list. But the awesome thing for Clements is he has non-athletic options as well.
Armed with a 4.02 grade point average, Clements has been accepted to schools such as Gardner Webb, St. John’s University and Holy Name, just on academic merits alone.
He said he wants to major in business management or business marketing and follow in his dad’s footsteps as an accountant. He has visions of starting his own business.
“It’s great to have these options,” Clements said. “Really, it’s the perfect world to have a chance to tell somebody else ‘no’ instead of relying on someone to make that decision for me. If I get more money at one school for academic scholarships, I can try to walk on as a basketball player. But if the basketball scholarship brings more money, I can go to that school and play. The game is in my hand to make the choice.”
Wherever Clements ends up, McRae said that school is going to get him at a bargain.
“He’s a Division I athlete, hands down,” McRae said. “And I think if the opportunity presents itself in these potentially next two games, and he gets this time on film, if people don’t know him, they’re getting ready to know about him.”
It could, indeed, become a very big weekend for Clements and Peachtree Academy as they face Camp Jewel House Friday at Truett-McConnell in the GICAA Division II-A semifinal game. Win, and Peachtree Academy will be playing for its first state championship on Saturday, also at Truett-McConnell.
And for someone who’s been playing the game since he was 3 years old, Clements said he doesn’t want to see himself closing out his high school career in any other fashion than on top.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunities I’ve received at Peachtree, and I’m thankful for coach McRae and principal McRae for everything she has done for me,” he said. “It’s good to be back in this position again, but this time I definitely want to end it with a state championship.”