LINCOLN PARK — When Clay Tormey decided to become a Division I basketball player, he knew he wouldn't actually be playing more than a few minutes a season.
Four years ago, the Lincoln Park native spurned offers to suit up for several Division III schools and instead chose the walk-on route at Davidson College, which has reached the last two NCAA tournaments. The Wildcats (19-11) will seek their third straight trip to the Big Dance as the top seed in the Southern Conference tournament, which runs Friday through Monday at U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C.
"The practices here are my games," said Tormey, 23, a 5-foot-11 senior guard who has seen 20 minutes of court time this season, without scoring a point.
"I've always accepted my role here, and I was fine with it from day one. I know I can still contribute in other ways," added Tormey, who earned an athletic scholarship prior to this season.
"Clay brings it every day. He is a relentless worker," said Davidson associate head coach Jim Fox. "He pushes guys to get better all the time. He has been as valuable to our team as anyone during his career."
Along the way, Tormey has had a convenient sounding board in his older brother Griffin, who was a walk-on guard and student-manager for Duke's men's hoops team.
"The fun parts for us are preparation, practice, helping ... being a part of something bigger than yourself," said Griffin Tormey, 26, a St. Ignatius College Prep graduate who is now a research analyst for Neuberger Berman downtown. "He understood that going in, and I know it's been an amazing experience for him."
Griffin said Clay's work ethic mirrors that of their father, Mark, a managing partner at Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants.
Mark Tormey — currently the president of Di Pescara, Saranello's, Reel Club, Do-Rite Donuts and Petterino's, and the co-founder of Maggiano's Little Italy — said Clay always wanted to play college basketball at a high level and "worked hard to get to the point he could do that."
"He's learned a lot about teamwork, discipline and personal discipline," said Mark Tormey, who has fit attending several Davidson games this season into his busy schedule.
Clay is on a career path of possibly following in his father's footsteps. In September after graduation, he will head to the Washington, D.C., to serve as an assistant manager of a new Summer House Santa Monica restaurant run by Lettuce Entertain You.
It's a natural progression for Clay, whose first food service "job" was helping his dad catalog wine as a 4- or 5-year-old on Sundays. Clay also has worked as a busboy, host and server at several of his father's establishments.
Clay has been in sports for almost as long. He won multiple judo national championships for Menomonee Judo Club in Lincoln Park as a 9- and 10-year-old. His coach, Brett Wolf, said Clay's best quality was "his competitiveness."
"He always fought hard to the very end of every match," said Wolf, a Francis W. Parker graduate and West Rogers Park resident. "Had he stuck with judo, I have no doubt that he would have gone on to be a high level international competitor."
But Clay switched to focus to basketball as a teenager. After he, his father and mother, Carol, moved to Las Vegas, Clay was an all-state player at Henderson International School. He earned varsity letters all four years and was the school's valedictorian.
Clay said he had multiple Division III opportunities, where he certainly would have had more playing time, but he has zero regrets picking Davidson.
Heading to another NCAA tourney would be a perfect cap to his collegiate career.
"I feel like I've been blessed in a lot of ways," he said.