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Clayton State men seek 300th-win in program's 20-year history tonight

By Doug Gorman

dgorman@news-daily.com

It started way back 1990 at an obscure, out-of-the way, south Metro commuters' college in Morrow, with bleachers on one side of the gym in a converted roller rink.

Now. nearly two-decades later, the Clayton State men's basketball team is going after a major hardwood milestone tonight when it attempts to win for the 300th time in the program's history.

Truett-McConnell, a former junior college, now a four-year school will serve as the Lakers' opponent tonight in a 7:30 p.m. tip-off on the Morrow campus as the Lakers go for the record-setting win.

The Lakers come into the game with with a 2-1 overall record and fresh off Tuesday's 103-44 victory against Carver.

Things have changed dramatically at Clayton State. Spectators can now sit in bleachers on both sides of the gym and banners hang from the rafters, reflecting the success of the entire Laker sports program, including the women's basketball team and its trip to the NCAA Division II Final Four three years ago.

Games are now broadcast over the internet, a dorm has been built, creating a more traditional campus, and Clayton State has become a major player in the Peach Belt Conference and on the national NCAA Division II landscape.

Along the way, the Lakers have put up some other eye-popping numbers, including 249 straight games with at least one 3-point shot, and 60 games with at least two treys.

Mason Barfield, the current athletic director at the school has been at Clayton State from the beginning, serving as the team's first head coach.

"Going from a program that started from scratch, and playing in a gym that had only one side of bleachers, and winning just three games that first year, we have come along way."

Barfield admits the men's basketball team has grown with the development of the campus.

When Clayton State started its men's basketball team, it was the only athletic program offered by the school. Academics were also limited at the time, with only two bachelor degrees offered.

Now, the college fields 12 men and women's sports and 40 different degrees, including masters level diplomas.

"The progress of the men's basketball team is a mire image of the campus," he said.

Barfield's teams struggled in that first season, but for guys like Carlos Head, who was the first player to sign a basketball scholarship to Clayton State it was worth it.

By the fourth year of operation, Barfield's team was 25-7 and a successful NAIA team.

Before Barfield stepped down as head coach to devote his time to the athletic director's job, he won two league titles.

Jimmy Hebron took over the Clayton State program in 1996 and current head coach Gordon Gibbons has been on board since 2001.

Gibbons has won 157 games since coming to Clayton State.

His success includes a regular-season crown and a Peach Belt tournament win.

He has also put together three 20-win seasons.

"I only had a small part in the teams success. Everybody from Jimmy Hebron to Gordon Gibbons has played a huge role in the success," Barfield said.

Only two others have been at Clayton State as long. Track and cross country coach Mike Meade and athletic trainer John Zubal have shared Mason's vision.

But Mason hopes for more accolades to come Clayton State's way in all sports.

He points to a speech he heard from the late North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano when it comes to developing some his philosophies.

"Before you can get anything done, you have to know three things, we you have been, where you are, and where you want to go. I have got a great perspective about where we have been, compared to where we are now. It gives me a good vision of where we want to go."