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Article updated: 1/17/2013 11:21 PM

Back in Aurora, Clanton making herself at home again

By Joshua Welge

Ashley Luke Clanton could do without the traffic, but her return home to Chicago does come with its perks.

"Starbucks," she laughed. "It was five years since I had been to Starbucks."

Clanton, a high school All-America at Waubonsie Valley and three-time Daily Herald All-Area captain, is back in sweet "home" Chicago this year, taking the girls basketball coaching position at Mother McAuley.

Clanton coached the last five years at Danville, three hours south of Aurora and east of Champaign.

In a way, leaving Danville was leaving home.

Clanton's dad B.J. Luke, the former Waubonsie football coach, left in 2004 for his boyhood home of Danville to become the school's football coach and athletic director.

In Danville Ashley and her husband Denny Clanton, a former soccer player at Waubonsie and later the Chicago Fire, had their two boys Miles, now 5, and Eli, 2.

"It's really a different world down in central Illinois," Clanton said. "It was nice to go down there for that span of time. It was tough leaving. I had always been kind of a homebody and a loyal type personality, and I felt kind of like I was deserting my parents. But I think they enjoy this situation."

Clanton has made a somewhat circuitous route back to Aurora, where she now lives with her family a stone's throw from Waubonsie.

A member of Penn State's 2000 Final Four team after leading Waubonsie to the 1999 Elite Eight in a decorated high school experience, Clanton transferred to DePaul for her junior and senior seasons.

She played professionally for a year in Ireland, then assisted at Loyola University for two years before getting her first head coaching job at Danville.

Ashley and Denny, who works for BP, made a pact to give Danville four years. That turned to five. Ashley admitted that Denny was itching to come back to Chicago. He was hired by BP in February, and Ashley began the challenging search of matching coaching job with teaching position.

She touched base with Waubonsie after Kim Connell was let go in the spring, but it wasn't a fit with teaching jobs at a premium in District 204.

Finally, somewhat out of the blue, Mother McAuley AD Laurie Jacubczak emailed Clanton asking if she'd come look at the school.

"I came here and it was too good to pass up," said Clanton, also hired as an assistant to the athletic department. "It's different, all girls, private, a complete 180 from what I had been at, but you can tell from the atmosphere it's a neat place. They take a lot of pride in what they do here, and I thought we could get good really quick."

Indeed, Mother McAuley is a respectable 15-5 with good wins over Hillcrest and rival Marist.

When asked if her players realize just how good their coach was in her playing days, Clanton laughed.

Clanton had surgery for a herniated disc in her back last spring, calls herself "old" even though she's all of 32 and doesn't mix it up on the court with her girls too much.

"It's funny -- they're pretty savvy kids," Clanton said. "When they announced my name as coach they all went and looked it up. I'm not really sure. We don't talk about it a lot."

Clanton isn't, though, too old to not remember the good times from her high school days, which she calls her favorite playing memories.

Memories like when her coach Julie Callan swished an underhand halfcourt shot, then told her kids that practice was over and to follow her to Wendy's.

"Those things, they stick with you," Clanton said. "You want the same thing for your kids. The biggest thing about playing in high school is you mostly remember just how much fun you had. I think about the fun we had as teammates with your coach. I take myself back to that place a lot, put myself in that mindset with my kids.

"A lot of times, when I get frustrated with them, I remind myself that I was once that goofy kid and I just wanted to have fun."

jwelge@dailyherald.com

Follow Josh on Twitter @jwelge96

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