DUNCAN FALLS, Ohio -- It all started in the summer of 2017. I was in my office at work and received a call from Jason Kemp, a then assistant coach at Ohio University.
"Dude, I don't do this very often but I had to call you. There is this rising eighth grader absolutely destroying our youth camp," Kemp told me. "He looks like he could eventually be a 4-star, 5-star type of kid."
That rising eighth grader was AJ Clayton. Standing then at about 6-foot-4, Clayton has sprouted up to 6-foot-9 in the three years since.
Clayton's initial rise took place on the floor of The Convo and it will remain there, as the Philo rising junior told us on Sunday that he has committed to Ohio University.
"When you know something is a right fit, you just know," Clayton told 270 Hoops. "Every time I have been on Ohio University's campus, I have felt like I am home."
That familiarity Clayton built as a kid on those summer trips to the Bobcats youth camps have paid dividends for himself and the OU program. Clayton said those early memories helped him build what he called a 'future home.'
Building a relationship with the current OU staff and head coach Jeff Boals for more than a year, Clayton has developed a strong bond with the Bobcats. Boals and the Bobcats offered Clayton on April 10, 2019 - just a few weeks after the conclusion of his freshman season.
The OU staff, namely assistant coach Lamar Thornton, a Columbus resident who served on the Ohio Dominican and Hilliard Davidson benches several years back, kept close tabs with Clayton even as other programs began to notice his talents and extend him scholarships.
The efforts from Boals, Thornton and the rest of the staff hit a fever pitch on Saturday night when Clayton made that call that every college coach either dreads or rejoices in - depending on what side of it that your program falls on.
For Ohio, it was the side everybody wants to fall on, especially when it's a prospect of Clayton's caliber.
"I love the campus and I love the staff. I like the style of play and the community atmosphere," Clayton said. "I talked to Coach Boals and Coach Thornton last night and told them. I've thought about this for awhile now and I'm sure it's the right fit."
Clayton, who attends Philo in the small town of Duncan Falls, just south of Zanesville, will now get to have his family take part in his college experience. With his parents both serving as educators in the Philo school district, Clayton, who values loyalty and his roots, will be nearby for at least the next six years of basketball.
"Staying in Ohio and close to home does mean something to me," Clayton said. "My family will be able to be a part of this experience and be close by to support me."
Clayton becomes the second highly recruited 2022 prospect in Central Ohio to make a commitment, as Worthington Christian's DJ Moore committed to Liberty on Thursday.
A trend of committing early to the 'best fit' could be developing here, as Clayton was certainly influenced by Moore's decision with Liberty.
Ohio lands a major recruit in Clayton, who has many similarities in his game to Jason Carter, an all-MAC level performer for the Bobcats before transferring to Xavier. Clayton is an exceptional passer at 6-foot-9, can play and defend multiple positions and is becoming a knockdown shooter from long range.
Those skills will allow Clayton to thrive within OU's spread out offense. There's still a chance Clayton could grow even bigger than 6-foot-9, as he turned 16 this year and still has more developing to do. The Bobcats are building plenty of in-roads to the Central Ohio area with Clayton's addition, to go along with sophomore guard Ben Roderick (Olentangy Liberty) and incoming freshman Sam Towns (Pickerington Central).
The Bobcats will look to add more Columbus flavor in the 2021 class with DeSales' Desmond Watson and Thomas Worthington's Jalen Sullinger being their biggest targets.