BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Commanding In The Trenches
After An Up And Down Freshman Campaign, Clifford Has Gained The Experience Necessary To Lead
Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
For Clifford, the honor is an exciting accolade that he will certainly not take for granted.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “It’s really honoring and humbling that my teammates respect me enough to vote me as captain. Now it’s just my responsibility to be that extra voice and presence in the locker room.”
Additionally, he sees this title as an even greater motivator behind his increased effort in the gym.
“Being one of the leaders on the team, I think I definitely have a lot of responsibility on both ends of the floor with directing the defense and stuff like that,” he said. “[Donahue] puts a lot of pressure on his centers to be in control on offense, so I think I’m going to have a lot of responsibility.”
One area in particular on which Clifford has focused his efforts is rebounding. He is perfecting his form rather than relying on his size to overpower his opponents. He and Donahue believe the results will be obvious.
“I definitely got better at rebounding,” he said. “I’m looking forward to showing that. I’ve become more poised on offense, just more controlled with all my moves and the way I coordinate my offense with the other guys.”
Donahue indicates rebounding as the biggest area of growth for his young center, who struggled at times against veteran competition.
“Last year, you saw him battle a whole lot, but maybe the results weren’t there,” he said. “There was a lot of energy being thrown around, but not sensing where the ball goes. A couple of things like check out your man, wait a second, see where the ball’s going and go after it, as opposed to hit, ‘I have to play hard. I have to play hard,’ the ball is over your head, and you’re flailing all over the place. Dennis is way more poised and tough now.”
Playing through his freshman campaign gave Clifford real-game experience that most players do not gain until later years. While the early struggles seem overwhelming at times, he is already seeing major improvements in his play, and even more importantly, his role as a leader. With such an involved role on the team, Clifford’s expectations of his team have raised significantly.
“This offseason, there’s more pressure on our team because we’re young and we have potential and we need to start showing results,” he said. “I think we’re definitely going to surprise a lot of people. We’re all basically a year older, and I think the two freshmen guys are going to help a lot. I think we’re going to have a really good season.”
Clifford’s early experience has given him some lessons to not only pass on to his newest teammates but also to expand his game to whole new levels. After a season of losing, he has developed skills for both on and off the court, with the latter giving him the ability to lead his team to successes down the road.
“The biggest lesson is probably to keep your head up,” Clifford said. “We still haven’t gotten a road win as a team. The practices during the week count the most. After a loss, you can’t keep your head down. You just have to keep fighting.”