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BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Commanding In The Trenches

After An Up And Down Freshman Campaign, Clifford Has Gained The Experience Necessary To Lead

Assoc. Sports Editor

Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Experience is one of the key elements for teams looking for success. Having an older player in your lineup can give younger players wisdom and confidence. This year’s Boston College men’s basketball team may appear to lack veteran players, and therefore experience, but a closer look will find that some players have grown leaps and bounds. Just take sophomore center Dennis Clifford.

With only a season under his belt, Clifford is being looked at as one of the main staples in head coach Steve Donahue’s young program. After a freshman season in which his team battled against older, more weathered ACC teams, the 7-footer understands the work necessary for success, and has taken on a role of teacher to his younger teammates.

“All of the sophomores are now the leaders of this team,” he said. “We went from knowing absolutely nothing to knowing everything—everything we need to know to take care of the freshmen. That’s the aspect off the court. On the court, it’s about making sure the guys are comfortable, and know where to be and what to do.”

On a sophomore-heavy roster, Clifford has emerged as one of Donahue’s go-to guys on and off the court. He finished his rookie campaign averaging 9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds a game, and showed glimpses of greatness with the team lead in field goal percentage (.529) and blocks (29). Despite Clifford’s periods of struggle and a loss of confidence, Donahue sees the potential for an increase in performance and confidence as the new season approaches.

“I think like most of the freshmen, Dennis had some peaks and valleys,” he said. “I thought he was pretty consistent with his effort. No one I’ve ever coached, especially for a big guy, works as hard as him, almost to a fault. It’s our job to keep him fresh. I think a lot of the things you saw were fatigue that he just fought through at his size. But his confidence is way better.”

Always one to put the team first, Clifford was mostly upset about his squad’s losing record, and felt helpless at times.

“It was kind of demoralizing at some points,” he said of his team’s struggles. “You’re doing everything you can, but kind of getting that feedback that whatever you do is not good enough. Coach Donahue did a very good job of keeping our guys together, and making sure we’re all on the same page every game.”

While only in his second year of college basketball, Clifford gained enough personal experience to realize his areas of greatest need and to focus his efforts on growing as a player.

“My workouts have definitely changed,” he said. “Countless hours during the summer. This summer, I really took it upon myself to get bigger and stronger. I think I accomplished that pretty well. I gained about 20 pounds of muscle, which I hope will help me this year a lot more than it did last year—knowing what I can work on everyday to improve my game and help my team win.”

Donahue suggests that, as is common with most late-blooming big men, Clifford may be comfortable playing with his height and weight for the first time in his career.

“It’s funny,” Donahue said. “Even though he’s obviously at an ACC school and he’s a big kid, he hadn’t had a great deal of success because his body was changing so much. He was getting stronger. It’s almost like it’s catching up to him. And I think that’s what he’s feeling now. He’s up to 259 [pounds], almost 260, and he’s seven feet with bare feet. His weightlifting numbers are off the charts compared to last year.”

This increased confidence and continued work ethic has shown tremendous results in the preseason. On the Eagles’ recent trip to Spain in August, Clifford had a chance to showcase his new skill set, and the increased effort he put into his summer workouts. The results were obvious.

In the team’s first game against Eurocolegio Casvi, Clifford put up a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds. He continued his strong European performance with a 15-point, eight-rebound effort against the Valencia Basket Club of Spain. The 7-footer mirrored this performance with the exact same numbers against Regal Barcelona.

Despite leaving Spain with a losing record, Clifford proved himself capable of playing against some of the top international competition. For him, the biggest positive from the trip was the gain in the group’s camaraderie.

“I think everybody loved it,” he said. “It was right after everyone spent the second session of summer together, so we were getting used to each other. We knew each other pretty well, and then that was just a great chance for us to come together even more. Guys over there are really talented, and that forced us to play strong team defense and do all of the things that Donahue has been preaching.”

The culmination of Clifford’s hard work resulted in his being made captain by his teammates upon returning to campus this fall. Usually an honor held for upperclassmen, Clifford earned respect from his teammates as the kind of leader they will need to compete in the ACC.

“I let guys vote,” Donahue said. “They can vote for one or they can vote for 12 guys. I think almost every ballot had Dennis on it. He was hands above everyone, so we decided to go with one. He’s there for both sessions of summer school, and, although it is close, no one works harder in the weight room. No one’s in the gym more. The guys respect that. He has no ego, and sometimes you wish he did, but he’s absolutely for the team. He does anything you ask and plays hard for this team. The guys are seeing that example everyday.”

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