Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Former MAAC Ass't Clifford New NBA Bobcats' Coach

There's a new milestone for a former MAAC connection.

When the Charlotte Bobcats hired Steve Clifford, on Monday, to be their head coach it is believed to be the first time a former MAAC connection has ever become a head coach in the NBA.

Clifford actually served as an assistant coach for two MAAC programs. He was at Fairfield for a season (1989-90) and at Siena for a season (1994-95).

Your hoopscribe got to know Clifford well during his season at Siena, and has kept in touch over the years. All who have ever spent any time with "Cliff" know him to be one of the all-time nice guys.

After Siena, Clifford moved on to be the head coach at Division II Adelphi and, then, became an assistant coach at Division I East Carolina University.

While at East Carolina, he was a candidate for a Siena opening in 2000 (to replace Paul Hewitt) that eventually resulted in Louis Orr's hiring. Orr was at Siena for all of 49 weeks before moving on.

Clifford was again a candidate when Orr left in 2001 and, a variety of sources confirmed, was offered the position. But, he spent the 2000-01 season as an advance scout for the NBA New York Knicks. As Clifford was considering Siena's offer, Knicks' coach Jeff VanGundy promoted Clifford to a full-time assistant with that franchise.

Instead, Siena turned to Rob Lanier to fill that vacancy.

Clifford has been in the NBA ever since, first as Van Gundy's assistant in New York and Houston and, later, as Stan Van Gundy's assistant in Orlando. He had been a Lakers' assistant, for the past season, securing that position, in part, because of his connection and positive relationship with Lakers' center Dwight Howard.

Clifford has been known Jeff Van Gundy since they both worked at Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's summer camp in 1985.

Clifford and Van Gundy renewed acquaintances in 1998 during an NBA lockout. Clifford was coaching at Adelphi and Van Gundy (then the Knicks' coach) was living nearby.

Clifford recalls that Van Gundy called him to say he wanted to do something basketball related during the lockout and asked if he could come to Adelphi practices to help out. So, for several weeks Adelphi's players got the benefit of working with an NBA coach.

Van Gundy was so impressed with Clifford that, when the opportunity occurred, he brought Clifford to the Knicks' organization.

"He's a person with impeccable integrity," Van Gundy has been quoted, about Clifford, in news reports. "He's a brilliant basketball coach who relates to all kinds of people well and I think he will do an absolutely fantastic job with the talent at hand. I'm so happy for one of the good guys in the league to get this opportunity."

The Bobcats were 21-61 this past season under previous coach Mike Dunlap.

And, now, Clifford gets a chance to help turn that franchise around.

It has been a meteoric rise for a well-liked, well-respected coach whose background includes early years within the MAAC.

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