Clayton boys excel at run-n-gun

Clayton High's Mahir Yilmaz (right) attempts a layup against Wildwood High's Trayvon Young during the first quarter on Monday, December 19, 2016. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

The game was a minute and a half old when the coach substituted all five starters, and nobody was complaining about going to the bench.

Even in this early juncture, the pace of the game was making everybody tired - the team with the ball, the opponent playing defense, the fans witnessing the action and of course, the brave scorekeeper.

The players on the Clayton boys' basketball team are encouraged to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more.

In fact one way to get a seat next to coach Frank Rago is to pass up shots.

Rago is in his 14th season as head coach and a is longtime math teacher at the school. Six years ago he calculated a formula to involve more players and have his team put up shots at a dizzying pace.

The results have been encouraging and this year the team has hit its peak.

The run-and-gun Clippers are 19-6 and earned a share of the Tri-County Conference Classic Division, the school's first basketball division title since the 1982-83 season.

Oh yes, and Clayton is averaging 95.4 points per game. That's 18 points per game more than Villanova. (Keep in mind high school games are 32 minutes.) Clayton has hit the century mark 11 times.

"There are a lot of naysayers, but I play so many kids and they love it and the crowd loves it," Rago said.

That's for sure.

A recent 100-90 home win over visiting Pitman was played before a large and enthusiastic crowd in the small gym.

While playing at such a fast pace can be difficult, Clayton has plenty of depth.

Clayton's tallest starter may be just 6-foot-2 but Rago says he has employed 18 players as starters.

In fact, who starts the game isn't that important. Who ends it isn't, either.

It's who survives such a fast pace that counts the most.

"It's fun," said senior point guard Michael Gibson, who is averaging 19.4 points, making him only the third leading scorer on the team. "All we do is run, and we feel that we will be the fresher team in the fourth quarter."

On the night before the game, senior guard Mahir Yilmaz was honored for recently scoring his 1,000th career point. He then went to the bench for the start of the game, but he was one of the five in before 1:30 had elapsed.

Of course the run-and-gun strategy doesn't always work. For instance, this season the Clippers lost, 84-64, to Pennsauken Tech. In that game Clayton shot 4 for 40 from beyond the arc.

"We lost, but we played hard for 32 minutes and the shots just weren't falling that night," Rago said.

Yet there was no thought of deviating from the strategy.

The next game, Clayton won, 110-78, against Pennsville.

For 6-2 junior Saleem Brown, it took a little adjustment, but he has certainly gotten the hang of things. Brown is in his first year with the Clippers after transferring from Philadelphia's George Washington High.

"It's kind of crazy," said Brown, who scored 46 points and had seven three's in a 100-83 win Thursday over Deptford. "After about the third game I got used to it."

Clayton is now ready for the postseason. On Tuesday, the No. 7 seeded Clippers will host No. 10 Maple Shade in the opening round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 1 tournament.

The Clippers likely won't be mentioned among the favorites in an expected competitive Group 1 field, but you can't imagine anybody relishing playing Clayton.

That's because the shots will be flying, the points will be accumulating, and the opponent, whether successful or not in the final score, will definitely end the game on the brink of sheer exhaustion.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard