FRIDAY, DEC. 4, 2009 McCluer head basketball coach Erwin Claggett makes a point during the Comets' 69-55 loss to Chaminade in the title game of the Pattonville Basketball Tournament on Friday. (Photo by Don Adams Jr.)

Erwin Claggett could do without the yips. An avid golfer, Claggett plays three or four times a week in the summer. His putter, though, hasn’t been good to him the last couple of times out.

“Otherwise, I’d be going really low,” he says. “(Golf) is therapy for me.”

There’s a part of Claggett, 39, that has to laugh at that. The idea of him wearing a polo shirt, riding around in a cart and wondering which iron to pull out of the bag would leave the high school version of himself slack-jawed. The golf course is so far away from where Claggett came from, it might as well be a different planet.

A product of the rough-and-tumble community of Venice, Ill., Claggett didn’t know what golf was when he was a kid. The only ball Claggett ever paid attention to was basketball. And rightly so. He was bloody good at it.

“Coming up, I never heard of golf. Basketball was always first. Everybody hooped, whether it was at the school ground or the park. At 5 o’clock, you could find a good game at three or four different places,” Claggett says. “It wasn’t a cupcake game. It was competitive.”

Dubbed the ‘Venice Menace,’ Claggett would go on to become a local sensation as a school boy. He earned player-of-the-year honors and took his game to Saint Louis University. He led the Billikens to the NCAA tournament twice and finished his career as the second leading scorer in school history with 1,910 points, second only to Anthony Bonner’s 1,972. He was inducted into the SLU Hall of Fame in 2001.

Basketball then took him overseas for a professional career and there was a stint locally with the St. Louis Swarm. When he hung up his sneakers, Claggett moved into coaching. He was tabbed as McCluer High School’s head boys basketball coach in 2003. His teams compiled a record of 168-60 and Claggett was named Suburban North Conference Coach of the Year three times.

In April, Claggett was offered and accepted the same position at St. Louis University High. He is the 14th head coach in the program’s history. He replaced John Ross, who had been the head coach for 11 seasons.

Claggett is the man the Jr. Billikens are asking to turn around their program. For all of SLUH’s athletic success, the basketball program has struggled. SLUH didn’t win a Metro Catholic Conference game the last two years and finished over .500 just twice the last 11 years. Every sport has its peaks and valleys. Basketball never managed to climb out of the valley.

After wrapping up two weeks of camps on campus, Claggett is optimistic it won’t take as long as he originally thought to right the ship at SLUH. There is talent in the program. It’s just a matter of developing it.

“We’re doing a lot of skill work, both mental and physical,” he says. “They’re really competitive students in the classroom. We want to translate that over to the basketball court.”

Claggett has experience with this sort of project. While at McCluer, he guided the program back into upper-echelon of area teams. And while the Comets never won a district title after tussling with the likes of McCluer North and Hazelwood Central regularly, they were always in the conversation of great local teams. SLUH isn’t in that conversation, yet. Give Claggett some time and it will be.

Claggett’s passion alone will have a positive effect on the program. It’s infectious. Teaching is how he feels he can give back to the game that has given him so much. Basketball took him to college, overseas and now a coaching career.

“It’s still giving back to me,” he says.

Now if it could only get rid of those yips.