by Bruce Strand, Sports Editor
In Elk River boys basketball history, nobody has played more games than Clay Elrod, who finished a four-year tenure with 1,606 points in 109 games, including 84 starts.
A sharpshooter blessed with a lanky, basketball-prototype body, a sharp mind and a winning attitude, Elrod earned his chance early, scoring 125 points off the bench as a ninth-grader, then turned in three stellar, all-conference seasons.
“He had an outstanding career,” Elk coach Randy Klasen said. “He was a great teammate. He was always positive and the other players on his teams always enjoyed playing with him.”
The 6-foot-6, 190-pound forward, picked for the state coaches all-star games in April, averaged 18.1 points as a sophomore, 17.1 as a junior and 18.3 as a senior. His total is second only to 1993 Mr. Basketball Skipp Schaefbauer’s 1,808.
Along with a scoring ability that was always there, his ability to defend emerged strongly.
“Clay was very versatile at defending,” Klasen said. “He could guard the other team’s ‘big’ or step out and defend an athletic wing.”
If you picked an all-time Elk starting five, it would be hard to keep Elrod off. He also ranks fourth with 517 rebounds, third with 134 three-pointers, and fourth with .795 free throw accuracy. Other totals: 68 steals, 105 assists, 41 charges taken, and .475 field goal shooting.
“Clay is a great competitor,” Klasen added. “He never backs down from a challenge. One of his strengths is that he was always willing to take the big shot. When the game was on the line he wanted the shot and he usually delivered.”
Elrod delivered of his trademark, high-arching 3-pointers from several feet outside the circle to beat Osseo 47-46 at home his junior year, the Elks only win over the Orioles in eight years. Among other signature games were 26 points and a last-second, game-winning outback against Maple Grove in 10th grade; a 30-point, 11-rebound performance in a 61-54 loss to state runner-up Park Center last year; 18 points without missing a shot in a win over St. Michael-Albertville; and 28 points in a 61-58 win over Park Center this year.
About the other end of the court, Elrod reflected, “I started to understand the game more defensively (this year), knowing how to put myself in position to make plays on defense, not just offense.” AAU experience on the Minnesota Comets under coach Chris Lewis helped develop his game considerably, he added.
The Elks were 50-33 his three years as a starter, including a 20-9, section runner-up season his junior year. Elrod had 19 points in the 74-68 finals loss to Brainerd.
He helped the Elk football team take sectionals his junior year, most notably his 27-yard touchdown run at quarterback in a 53-42 playoff win over Rogers. The first two QB’s got hurt, and Elrod, normally at tight end, took over.
Unlike in basketball, he did mostly grunt work in football as a blocking tight end. “I enjoyed the blocking and I usually made them,” said Elrod, who dropped football this year to concentrate on his college sport. “Playing football definitely helped my inside game in basketball. Hitting bodies, that was good training.”
Elrod’s hoops career ended with a loss to Buffalo on March 1. He was the lone senior in the top nine on a 16-11 team. “It still feels surreal, going home after school instead of practice,” Elrod said. “It’s a bummer. I really wanted to get to state once.”
His only other specific goal was to play well enough to go on to the next level. “And I’ve done that,” said Elrod, who signed with Bemidji State.
THE ELROD SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 18 … Family: parents Tim and Jolene; brothers Chase, 15, and Cole, 12; sister Carli, 9 … Sport: basketball, formerly football .. Other activities: DECA, and Church of Hope projects … Academics: B average …. College plans: Bemidji State, basketball, business major … Ambition: business sales and/or communications
Favorite stuff — Class: DECA, Team Sports … TV show: “24″ … Movies: “Remember the Titans,” “Tommy Boy” … Reading: Sports Illustrated … Food: burgers, fries and milk shake at “Steak & Shake” in Chicago and down South … Drink: Gatorade fruit punch … Teams: Packers, Timberwolves, Iowa State …. Athlete: Stephan Curry … Kickback activity: long-boarding