Winona State has another dominant men's basketball star
Winona State sports fans might want to stop for a second, think about who they are watching, and remember this is high tide.
At this point in time, you are seeing the best of the best.
Sure, the Warriors have won national championships in basketball with some outstanding players — John Smith, Jonte’ Flowers and Zach Malvik, to name a few — but right now, in this moment, Clayton Vette is king.
Vette is to the Warrior basketball team what Rayon Simmons was to the Mineral Water Bowl champion Winona State football team this fall. He is the man.
Vette scored 51 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, had four blocked shots and four steals in 68 minutes in victories over Bemidji State and the University of Minnesota-Crookston this weekend. Without him, the Warriors — winners of 10 straight to push their record to 16-3, 10-2 NSIC — would have been in a boatload of trouble.
Take Saturday’s workmanlike (I’m trying to be nice) 64-53 win over the University of Minnesota-Crookston, a team that entered McCown Gymnasium with an 11-game losing streak. Vette had 12 points in the first half and nine in the second, including a posterizing slam over James Sparkman.
He did miss the free throw on a potential three-point play, but the message was sent.
While Winona State coach Mike Leaf has built a career on great defense and a balanced offense, Vette is driving the bus right now, and the 6-foot-9, 235-pound senior from Waverly, Iowa, has the hammer down.
"Clayton has played at very high level. He has gotten a ton of rebounds," Leaf said. "We’ve talked about being the John Smith (wall of defense) in the paint, and he’s been that guy in there.
"Anybody that’s gotten dribble penetration he has been there to help and he’s forced guys to throw some things up there."
Presence in the paint
While Vette has put up some gaudy numbers when it comes to points this season, his mere presence in the paint changes things on the defense end. And on the offensive end, even if he doesn’t score, the Warriors offense runs more efficiently when the ball goes through him.
Like when he scored consecutive baskets early in the second half Saturday as Winona State went on a 7-0 run to take a 45-34 lead over Crookston (3-13, 0-12 NSIC). Or when he collected a couple of assists in an 8-3 spurt that put Winona State in control 58-43 with 7:05 left.
Vette is playing like Simmons did for the football team in key games — he’s stepping up, carrying the load when necessary, distributing it to his teammates at others. That’s what leaders do.
"He is a phenomenal player. Sometimes when we get in those (offensive) lulls, we get away from giving him the ball," said Winona State guard Taylor Cameron.
"So much can come from getting him the ball. He gets easy ones, but then we can get easy ones, too. He draws two and three guys. We cut, and we are going to get open shots, too. So much can come from him, and he is just a great player to have down there (in the paint). He’s just a great decision maker."
So while Winona struggled to shoot the ball from the perimeter against Bemidji State (3-for-20 from 3-point range), then failed to muster the same level of energy or intensity Saturday night against Crookston, it did what it set out to do — it won both.
And Vette was a key reason why.
"He is trying to weave and get in there close enough when he catches that ball," Leaf said of Vette. "He’s got so many people collapsing on him, but he’s still able to get it done. Fortunately, he’s one of the best ballplayers we’ve ever had and he shows it."