All-County: West’s Browning earned a spot
By Ronnie Gallagher
If you had predicted before the season that Clay Browning would be an all-county player, you would have been sent to the looney bin.
Browning would have been the one driving you. He wouldn’t have believed it either.
“I wasn’t expecting to play last year as a junior, and this year, I didn’t know what to expect,” the senior point guard said.
But here he is, with his 3.9 scoring average and 140 career points, an all-county star.
How did it happen?
First, starting guards K.P. Parks and Kaleb Kimber were injured: Parks with a gimpy ankle and Kimber with a bad back.
Coach Mike Gurley turned to his senior ó whose father is a coach and mother is a teacher ó to lead his team.
“Clay has learned discipline,” Gurley said, acknowledging Browning’s parents. “He was big for us every night with his leadership.”
Browning rose to the challenge but admitted, “To come in and be a starter, which I had never been, there was some pressure on me. But once I started playing, I knew it’s a game.”
Master motivator Gurley nurtured Browning throughout.
“At the beginning of the season, I hit some rough spots,” Browning said. “He understood it and he helped me. Coach told me not to play like K.P. Don’t try to play like Kaleb. Just play my game and help the team win.”
Twenty-one victories later, Browning won the biggest honor of his athletic life.
“In a lot of ways, Clay was the symbol of what this team stood for,” Gurley said. “He was the model for absolute team unity.”
Browning said the Falcons realized they could be a contender during a three-point loss to talented Northwest Cabarrus.
“To come in as an inexperienced team and barely lose to them, that kinda showed us what we could do,” Browning said. “Our team was more role players so we just tried to play harder than our opponents.”
Gurley was a proud as he has ever been.
“This all-county selection for Clay is really an all-county selection for the whole group,” he said.
As far as Browning is concerned, it’s also an award for his dad, Butch, as well.
Butch is a career coach. He has been the head man at other schools, but he’s now on Scott Young’s football staff at West, giving him a chance to be around his son all day every day.
“Me and my dad are real close,” Browning said. “He never put pressure on me. Sports is something I wanted to be good in for him.
“And I can go home and talk to him about stuff.”
They had a lot of “goodstuff” to talk about during the sectional playoffs. West pulled off an amazing rally at T.C. Roberson to force overtime. It ended with Browning’s tip-in for the winning points.
“That was crazy,” Browning laughed. “The whole comeback and overtime is a blur.”
Then, he scored a career-high 14 in a win over Charlotte Catholic. He was ill during the sectional final loss at Hickory but he had already made his mark.
“The last week of the playoffs, Clay played wonderful,” Gurley said. “He’s the only reason we got to the sectional final.”
Like Browning, Gurley wasn’t thinking all-county when the season began. But now that it is a reality, he thinks back to Browning’s elementary-school days.
“Until Clay was in about the fifth grade, he had a neighbor up the street named Mike Gurley,” the coach smiled. “I never dreamed the kid kicking that soccer ball up and down Hampton Road would turn into my most important guard in his senior year.”
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.