"I spent 10 days at home and the rest of the time I spent in Iowa by myself with my junior college coach. And we just worked. That’s all we did was work, drills," Clyburn recalled. "I wasn’t disappointed with how my freshman year went, but I knew I could do better. I had a taste of it. I ended up getting invited to a top JUCO players for the summertime [camp] and I think that’s where I was kinda like: ‘you got a chance.’ I went there, I played well and that’s when I finally said, okay you actually have a chance to go to a university. And it went up from there."
His second season forced people to take notice, especially after he scored 54 points in one game. That led to a series of scholarship offers and Clyburn eventually settled on the University of Utah for one season before spending his senior year with Iowa State University.
Clyburn knew little about basketball in Europe, but was pleased with the offer from ratiopharm Ulm and played his first two professional seasons in Germany before one at Israel's Hapoel Holon under Dan Shamir, who is now an assistant coach at EA7 Emporio Armani Milan. Shamir put in a good word for Clyburn with David Blatt and soon he was signed to play for Darussafaka Istanbul.
"Once I get to some places, I’m like ‘hey, I made it pretty far. I’m just happy to be here. I beat the odds.' And [Blatt] was the first guy that told me don’t see it that way. Don’t look at it that way. I brought you here for a reason. I brought you here to help this team. I think you can help this team," Clyburn said of the start of his time at Darussafaka. "After we had that conversation, he kept his word. I was a part of the team. I was a big part of the team and he gave me freedom to really play my game. He gave me an opportunity.
Clyburn had a major role as a starter for Darussafaka as it made the playoffs and even took Game 2 of the series from Real Madrid. From there Clyburn signed with CSKA Moscow, where his career reached new heights as he won his first EuroLeague crown and twice to the All-EuroLeague team in five seasons. But, as Clyburn revealed in the podcast, it could have gone very differently.
He suffered a sprained ankle late in the semifinals victory over Real Madrid that would require surgery that summer. He took a shot just to be able to play in the championship game against Efes. But even that did not help too much.
"In warmups, I went to test it out to make sure I was good and I jumped and, oh man, it just came just flying back at me. All the pain came out at once and I said, this is not gonna go well for me," he said.
"Still to this day, I’m just lucky that Efes never decided to attack me off the dribble because for sure I couldn’t play against it. If they were to decide to bring me to pick on Shane [Larkin] and had me out there on Shane. Done. Bring me to Vasa [Micic]. Done. It didn’t matter. I had Adrien [Moerman]. He doesn’t dribble the ball, just crashes the boards. I could do that. But if I had to move, no way…"
Clyburn went for 20 points on 4-for-6 three-point shooting in that game to take home 2019 Final Four MVP honors. It would be his last big game for a while as he suffered a torn ACL early the following season. But Clyburn worked hard to get back and was a dominant player again after that.
A family man, Clyburn’s wife and kids have been there for him through the highs and lows and he has developed a strategy to help him deal with problems before he goes home.
"I use my time to reflect on the drive home. Especially after losses, bad practices, stuff like that. That drive home is kind of where I reflect and think about those things that went wrong, what I did right and whatnot. But when I walk through that door and my family and my kids are there, that life is gone, basketball is cut. Now I have a new responsibility when I walk in this house and they have nothing to do with that basketball stuff."
At age 32, Clyburn still has plenty of great basketball in front of him and he is certain to play a key role as his new team, two-time defending champion Efes, looks to challenge for another ‘ship this season.
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Mike James, Nicolo Melli and Vasilije Micic, coaching greats such as Georgios Bartzokas, Dimitris Itoudis and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others.
The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas is available on Youtube, iTunes, Audioboom, Spotify, Deezer, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher, CastBox, iVoox and other platforms.