Ask your typical blue-collar Kentucky basketball fan where the pinnacle of college basketball is located and more often than not, their finger will point you north along Lexington Road, toward Rupp Arena in Lexington.
A few local alumni have even ventured there during the years, but East Jessamine High School spawned its own hard working athlete, and the only from his team to play varsity college basketball.
Located in Grayson, Kentucky Christian University watched on as its big man on campus, Clay McKinzie, recently closed the book on his basketball career.
On the night of Feb. 5 at Ohio Christian University, McKinzie went in knowing he was four-points shy of placing his name along those in the 1,000-point club, but didn’t want to make it seem so significant in the best interest of the team.
“It was in the back of my head,” McKinzie said. “It was a game where if I do the same thing I’d done the whole year, I mean it’s going to go, and it did.”
As the moment approached, the 22-year-old McKinzie took himself back to a young teenager attempting to calm his nerves.
“Coming down the court I knew I was there, getting close, and I just kept telling myself ‘it’s just another basket, it’s just another basket,’” McKinzie said. “If I just go out there, do what I know best — play basketball — then it’ll come to me.”
Despite McKinzie’s 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one steal, the Knights couldn’t manage a victory that night.
Prior to his arrival that night, what he didn’t know was that Knights head coach Ron Reed invited his parents, who drove six hours from their Indiana home to see their son.
The Indiana native grew up just as many do in Kentucky: basketball-minded.
“I grew up a big Hoosier fan, so what else is there to do but play basketball in Indiana,” McKinzie said.
In 2008 he and his family moved to Nicholasville, where McKinzie attended East Jessamine. Walking into a school already boasting five seniors, McKinzie didn’t know if it was the place for him.
“I was wanting to play ball ... I didn’t know if they’d want another with the congestion on the team already. One guy on the basketball team saw me play during (physical education), and he said we got to get him to play.”
Once on the team, McKinzie said he “blossomed,” and it led to mutual interest with KCU.
“(Coach Chris) O’Bryan told me, ‘I don’t know if you can play at a place like Alice Lloyd or Asbury, but maybe a smaller school. But I think your best basketball is still ahead of you,’” McKinzie said.
Troubles arose during his sophomore year when began to worry about playing time with Reed’s arrival in Grayson.
“My sophomore year, I played quite a bit my first semester. Then, second semester we had a kid come back, so he played more minutes and that set me back. When I was out there I felt like I had to do something right in order to stay in the game,” McKinzie said. “I knew my junior and senior year here I’d get to play and get to start and play a lot of minutes, so when I went out there, especially this year, it just came a lot easier. I let all that stuff just wash away and not get to me.”
And when those minutes arrived during his junior and senior seasons, McKinzie took hold of the opportunity, becoming a more confident player who displayed leadership in a multitude of ways.
“Clay could do one thing, he could shoot the ball from the perimeter,” Reed said. “This year he became a more well rounded player. Not only could he score from the perimeter, but he finally started taking the ball inside, became a more effective rebounder and a pretty good defensive player.”
McKinzie said after his family returned to Indiana, he stayed in Lexington over the summer where when he wasn’t having to work, he was frequenting UK’s Johnson Center and the Kentucky Basketball Association to evolve his game.
“When I’d play ball, I’d be like I know I can shoot so lets try to mix it up, drive it to the basket against guys who are pretty good,” McKinzie said.