By Doug Gorman
Clayton State University senior Michael Sloan loves to shoot the basketball. Two-point shots, or long-range 3-point bombs, it really doesn't matter.
Both are part of his impressive offensive repertoire.
One thing is for sure, Sloan has turned into a scoring machine for the Lakers as he heads down the home stretch of his final college season.
After Wednesday's heartbreaking 68-64 loss on the road against rival North Georgia, the Lakers dropped to 8-8 overall and 4-5 in the Peach Belt.
Sloan knows he is running out of chances to bring an NCAA Division II national title home to the Morrow campus, and he would love nothing more than to see his team make a run at the title in the final weeks of his last college campaign.
It begins for Sloan Saturday, when the team plays host to Francis Marion in a Peach Belt Conference showdown at 4 p.m.
Earlier this year, the Lakers' team captain became just the sixth Clayton State player to go over 1,000-points in his career when he scored 14 points in the team's 65-59 win against Peach Belt Conference foe Lander.
He joins former Clayton State standouts Carlos Head (1990-94) (1,682 points), Charlie Frazier (1998-02) (1,243), Robert Conley (1997-99) (1,219), Craig Butts (2002-05) (1,211) and Keith Herring (1991-94) (1,091) as a member of the Lakers' 1,000-point club.
"It feels good to have scored over 1,000 points," Sloan said. "When I came in my freshman year, I would have never thought that would have happened. All I want to do is win, but I am happy I was able to do it."
The Lakers' four-year starter didn't even have to leave Clayton County to play college basketball after starring for Mac McConnell at Lovejoy High School.
"Playing at Lovejoy was a great experience," Sloan said. "We had a lot of great players. It was kind of the same experience I have had here. I had a lot of older guys help me out. I tried to listen to what they told me. I tried to listen to the coach, I really Ioved it there."
Sloan stepped into the Lakers' starting line up in the middle of his freshman season and has never left. Saturday he will start his 91st-straight game.
"He never misses a practice," Clayton State coach Gordon Gibbons said. "He is going to play no matter what. He is sort of our version of (Green Bay Packer quarterback) Brett Favre. He is going to play no matter what."
The Lakers' sharp-shooting guard showed his ability to change the outcome of a contest during his freshman season when he connected on a game-winning 3-point shot against conference foe North Florida, a team no longer in the Peach Belt.
More than 100 games later, it's still one of his most memorable shots.
"They kicked the ball to me in the corner, and I made it," Sloan said. "I really didn't know just how big the shot was until the coaches explained to me how big it was the next day when we were watching films."
Sloan has spent his career nailing down 3-point shots for the Lakers, He has already shattered the school record for treys, making 163 of the the long-range shots.
Believe it or not, he had to work on his shot when he first came to Clayton State.
"Mike is so coachable, he just wanted to improve," Gibbons said. "He was not a great out side shooter in high school. That was something he wanted. He found out early on there is technique to being a good shooter. He's a master of footwork. When young players try and soak up everything they can at the next level, instead of coming in and thinking they know it all, it's just going to be better. He wanted to learn everything he could."
He can also play defense.
Sloan is second on the school's all-time steals list with 151.
" You have to motivate yourself in some situations. I had to motivate myself to be the best that I could. Each season, I have just tried to get better," Sloan said.
Sloan showed his team leadership early in his career after being named team captain heading into his sophomore year, something almost unheard off at the college level.
Sloan almost wound up playing high school ball at Jonesboro where he would have been a teammate of Harry and Toney Douglas, Jamal Lewis and Darrell Robertson.
Harry, Jamal and Darrell ended up having standout college football careers, Toney started his college basketball career at Auburn and is now the starting point guard at Florida State.
That Jonesboro squad ended up playing for the state championship.
Still, he's glad he went to Lovejoy.
During Sloan's sophomore season in high school, the Wildcats advanced to the Sweet 16, winning the region title with victories against Morrow and Fayette County.
"We played Morrow about six times that year, and in the region tournament we beat them in triple overtime," Sloan said.
"It was the longest game of my life. Then the next night we had to go back out there and beat Fayette County, we almost got beat, but we were able to pull it out."
Sloan remembers going with his family to the IHOP to eat after the game and falling asleep in the booth he was so tried from playing so much basketball in a 24-hour period.
In the Morrow game, Sloan went up against Rod Venner, who spent one season at Clayton State before graduating last year.
Sloan was the first local player to sign with Clayton State under Gibbons' tenure.
He has never regretted keeping his game close to home.
"The main reason I came here was Coach G," Sloan said. "I was young, and he told me I would play early, which I did, and he told, me I would learn a lot, which I did. I have improved so much as a player and a person because of him. What you learn on the court turns over into life."
Gibbons says Sloan paved the way for other local players to sign with Clayton State.
"If you were to ask any of the high school coaches in the county their view of sending one of their players to Clayton State now, compared to what it was five years ago when Mike made the decision to come here, there is a 180-degree difference," Gibbons said. "Because Mike is so respected in the county, players are now looking at it as an option where five or six years ago they wouldn't of even given us a thought."
Since Sloan took the plunge and signed with Clayton State, other local players have flocked to the Division II program.
Morrow graduate Trey Goss tranferred into the Lakers' program last year after starting his college career at Fort Valley.
Torrin Green is being red-shirted this season, but the freshman had an outstanding caeer at North Clayton, leading the Eagles' to the Class AAAA Final Four last season.
Morrow graduate Eric Wilson is red-shirting after transferring back home from Tuskeegee.
Sloan, who led the Lakers with 20 points in Tuesday's loss to North Georgia, is one of the players Gibbons will count on to help Clayton State get things turned around starting today against Francis Marion when the game tips off at 4 p.m.
"The coach talks about how important mental toughness is for our team," Sloan said. "You can't forget about the game, it's life, but you have to have a quick memory, and try to move on and try and play better next game."
The Clayton County native wants to keep playing basketball once his college career is over, but if that doesn't work out, he hopes to stay involved in some capacity, perhaps blowing the whistle-not as a coach, but a referee.