DeJuan Clayton makes debut after lawsuit saga

Manhattan guard sued the NCAA for denying him eligibility


The night of Feb. 23 felt like a moment of rebirth for DeJuan Clayton. With the Manhattan College Jaspers trailing Marist by seven points, Clayton checked in for his season debut against all odds. Right then, he became the first D1 men’s basketball player to play in eight different seasons.

“It took a little longer than we had anticipated,” said Manhattan College men’s basketball assistant coach Tim Brooks. “He looked pretty natural.”

Clayton had been in a legal battle with the NCAA over his eligibility status after multiple unsuccessful appeals were filed since he transferred to Manhattan from the University of California-Berkeley. As a result, Clayton, 26, sued the NCAA earlier this month on the grounds of them denying him eligibility for no clear reason.

The questions raised in Clayton’s case specifically center on his time at Cal and the alleged egregious coaching conduct he endured there. In his lawsuit, Clayton claimed he was forced by his coaches to play through a hamstring injury, despite not being healthy, and how Cal deprived him of housing accommodations arranged by the school.

Clayton was only cleared to play after the game had started on Friday night, according to Brooks. The program believed the court’s ruling would come earlier in the day, but that too went by the wayside. With Clayton limited to warming up, Manhattan found themselves multi-tasking the events of the game and the updates regarding the court’s decision on Clayton.

“I was focused on not just a basketball game that Friday,” Brooks said. “DeJuan’s lawyers were just keeping me in the loop of what was going on.”

That was until Brooks’ phone buzzed at halftime. It was Clayton’s attorney, Bob Boland, of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, delivering a message that would soon reverberate around the college basketball world.

Finally, Clayton got the green light to play again.

Clayton was deemed eligible through invocation of a temporary injunction ordered by Bronx Supreme Court. The wait was over — Clayton’s team was finally awarded the favorable outcome.

“We thought he would get the waiver, but unfortunately that would not go in DeJuan’s favor,” Brooks said about the case going the judicial route. “It’s better late than never.”

Due to the closed-off nature of the case, the average spectator watching Friday night’s game may have been unfamiliar with Clayton’s story. The ESPN+ broadcasters did not mention Clayton’s presence until he was seen warming up on the exercise bike minutes before checking into Friday’s game.

Once Clayton checked into the game at the 10:20 mark of the second half, reality set in for the Jaspers’ newest weapon. Across 10 minutes, Clayton scored 9 points and added 2 rebounds and an assist, while battling through three turnovers. Clayton had limited practice time, too, because he returned home to Maryland during the impasse.

“He’s the one player playing in the pick up game whereas everyone else had coordinated practice segments,” Brooks said. “We’re just super grateful he’s with us now and is healthy and playing.”

The addition of Clayton instantly makes Manhattan more dangerous offensively and provides a heavy dose of veteran presence.  Manhattan only shoots 31 percent from the three-point stripe, which puts them in 10th place of 11 teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference ahead of Siena. Clayton can be a factor for improving that mark, coming off a season at Cal where he shot 37.7 percent on 53 attemtps. Moreover, Clayton remains tough to guard based on his ability to attack the rim.

Brooks’ relationship with Clayton dates back to when he coached the point guard during his sophomore year at St. John’s College High School in Maryland. Brooks, who also served as an assistant to current Jaspers’ head coach John Gallagher at University of Hartford, was first able to reunite with Clayton when he transferred to Hartford in 2021. Now, playing a role in Clayton’s final college season, there is bittersweet feeling attached to it for Brooks, given the way he has seen Clayton mature as a person and player.

“He always makes everyone better,” Brooks said.

Clayton’s trust in the coaching staff at Manhattan is the reason why he passed on offers from high-major programs who promised him valuable name, image, likeness deals. Clayton also could have played in foreign professional leagues, albeit ones considered to be low profile, but stayed in the college ranks despite there being no guarantee he would become eligible.

“Hopefully he’s going to have some healthy film and someone will have an interest in him when he’s done with us,” Brooks said regarding Clayton’s aspirations of playing at a high level of professional basketball.

According to Brooks, Clayton’s eligibility gain has sparked new excitement in the Jaspers’ locker room, which seemingly could only help with their performance.

“Everyone’s excited. We’re adding a huge piece,” Brooks said.

DeJuan Clayton, Manhattan College, men's basketball, NCAA, lawsuit, John Gallagher, red shirt, transfer portal