When Aaron Claytor played in the Saint Louis summer league in 2022, it was the end of his time as a hoopster in his beloved islands.
The Star-Advertiser All-State selection from ‘Iolani moved with his family to North California, where he enrolled at Salesian College Prep, located between Sacramento and San Francisco. Already building momentum thanks to his play in clubs across the West Coast, Claytor kept growing.
He is now 6 feet, 3 inches, two inches taller than he was as a sophomore at ‘Iolani, and has filled out a bit to 175 pounds. Earlier in the week, during a visit at Hawaii, Claytor received his sixth Division I scholarship offer.
“I’ve had interest from Hawaii for awhile. I came back this past weekend and visited them Tuesday. That’s when they offered,” he said. “Coach (Eran) Ganot said they really want me and they want people who want to be here. I spoke with the point guards coach and we watched film together. They way I play fits their offense, the continuous pick-and-roll.”
The other offers are from North Carolina A&T, Western Illinois, Radford, Montana and Cal Poly. There are some deep roots here — Claytor’s family lived in Laie, then Central Oahu.
“For me, Hawaii is home. I have a lot of family out there in Laie. A lot of people support me and would like to see me go there. I like the coaches,” he said. “My girlfriend lives there. She goes to Kahuku and plays soccer. Her parents are the ones who drove me to the visit.”
With the steady, guiding hand of his parents, Claytor is going to be patient about his college decision. Mario Claytor, his father, played basketball at UH-Hilo. Often, they’ll get home late at night, then hit the basketball gym at a nearby Air Force base for shooting reps. Mario and youngest son Anthony do the rebounding for Aaron.
In the meantime, Claytor stays in touch with former ‘Iolani teammate JJ Mandaquit, who also left ‘Iolani after the 2021-22 season. Mandaquit, selected to the U.S. U16 national team on Thursday, and Claytor cross paths on the busy prep hoops map.
“It was good. We see each other a lot now because we both play on the same (Adidas) circuit. It’s great seeing a former teammate and another person from Hawaii a lot more than I did before,” Claytor said.
“We’re real proud of those guys. Aaron was the player of the year in his league. From what I’ve seen and heard, he’s really matured his game as a true point guard, taking care of the ball, making good decisions, hitting shots, always a good on-ball defender with his length and IQ,” ‘Iolani coach Ryan Hirata said. “The fact that he caught the eye of UH and schools on the West Coast and East Coast, he’s doing very well.”
For now, Claytor is busy at tournaments and summer league games with his club team, Jalen Green Elite. He’s doing heavy lifting in the weight room, pounding iron and protein shakes. Crafting the skills, learning the intricacies of the PG position, it’s the best life for Claytor.
“I watch a lot of Jamal Murray, Ja Morant does it very well. Chris Paul does it well,” he said.
He got his first offer before his family left the islands, but in the end, it was a move Claytor doesn’t regret.
“I want to thank my family. We all moved. They bet on my talent,” he said. “I want to thank Coach Bill Mellis, Coach Joey Fuca, Coach Anthony Gonzalez, Coach Nat Garth. Coach Brandon Davis and the Jalen Green Elite staff. My parents and my siblings.”
Older sister Maya Claytor, the former Kahuku guard, just completed her sophomore season playing for Alcorn State.
Claytor’s school has roughly 350 students. Having more opportunities doesn’t always work out for athletes, but it certainly has for him.
“I think the key is to keep working and really work on your weaknesses, and to bet on yourself and your talents,” he said. “Taking a risk may be for the best.”