Florida basketball: Gators sign Iona guard Walter Clayton Jr.

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

Florida picked up its third player off the transfer portal on Tuesday, signing Iona combo guard and former Bartow High standout Walter Clayton Jr.

The 6-foot-2 Clayton had a breakout sophomore year for the Gaels, averaging 16.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists to earn MAAC player of the year honors. He gives the Gators another potential long-distance shooting threat.

Clayton shot 43.1 percent from 3-point range (72 of 167) and a nation-best 95.3 percent from the foul line (102-107) in 2022-23. Perimeter shooting is an area of need for the Gators after Florida ranked 8th in the SEC in 3-pointers made (6.7 3s per game) and 11th in 3-point shooting accuracy (31.4 percent) last season.

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Mar 10, 2023; Atlantic City, NJ, USA; Iona Gaels guard Walter Clayton Jr. (1) drives to the basket against Niagara Purple Eagles forward Harlan Obioha (55) during the first half at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Clayton visited Florida's campus the first weekend of April. A Haines City native, Clayton chose returning to his home state over following his former coach, Rick Pitino, to St. John's after visiting the SJU campus last weekend.

Clayton said the vision first-year Florida coach Todd Golden had to bring the program back played a factor into his decision. Florida reached the NIT last season but wound up 16-17 for its first losing season since 2014-15.

“Walter Clayton is a proven winner and someone who will immediately raise the bar within our program,” Golden said. “He has a great attitude and mentality that will certainly be contagious for all.  He grew up with Florida being his dream school, and now he gets to come home and wear the Orange and Blue in the O’Dome. I am excited to see what he is able to achieve as a Gator.”

"When I went there, I was blown away on the visit, the plans they have" Clayton said on his announcement show on the Field of 68 podcast. "Everything really started to come together, his vision for where he wanted to get the Florida program back to. I'm kind of just a feel guy, throughout this whole process I've been going with my feelings and I honestly feel like this is the best choice for me."

Florida signed Yale 6-8 forward E.J. Jarvis last week and Marshall 7-1 center Micah Handlogten on Monday to help shore up the frontcourt. Clayton is the first backcourt addition via the portal and should provide a nice complement to returning starters Riley Kugel and Will Richard.

In March, Clayton showed he could perform on the big stage, scoring 15 points and dishing 4 assists on 4 of 10 shooting and 3 of 6 shooting from 3-point range in Iona's NCAA Tournament loss to eventual national champion Connecticut.

"I feel like I'm a smooth-paced guard, can shoot the ball very well, can attack, just create for others," Clayton said.

With the additions of Clayton, Handlogten and Jarvis, Florida now has three open scholarship slots remaining for its 2023-24 roster.

An assist from Gervon Dexter Sr.

In Haines City, Clayton grew up as neighbors with former UF defensive line standout Gervon Dexter Sr. The two were high school football teammates at Lake Wales and remain close friends.

A dual-sport football/basketball standout, Clayton was offered a scholarship by former UF football coach Dan Mullen to play safety. But eventually, Clayton chose basketball as his path, transferred to Bartow and helped lead the team to a 31-1 record and state title in 2019-20.

"He had an opportunity to come as a football player and he didn’t," Dexter said at UF's Pro Day a few weeks ago. "So, I told him, ‘You missed the first opportunity, you got to take this one.' He's a great basketball player, he’s a great guy. I think he’d make a great basketball player here."