Here's another in the "Terrific 32," series, taking a look at the all-time best MAAC basketball happenings.
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FORMER SIENA ASSISTANT CLIFFORD BECOMES NBA HEAD COACH
Steve Clifford, a former assistant coach at both Siena College (1994-95) and at Fairfield (1989-90), became the first former MAAC connection to become an NBA head coach when he was hired for that position by the Charlotte Bobcats in late May.
Clifford might only have been at Siena for a single season (under then-head coach Bob Beyer), but his connection with the school has remained strong over the years.
He was a candidate for Siena's vacancy as head coach in 2000 (to replace Paul Hewitt), and again in 2001 (to replace Louis Orr).
Clifford reportedly was offered the Siena job in 2001 but turned it down when he was about to be promoted from advance scout to bench coach that year with the NBA New York Knicks.
It was a good career move because, after that, he was also an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets, the Orlando Magic and with the Los Angeles Lakers this past season.
Through his time in the NBA, he has remained close to his Siena connections, often serving as an advisor, of sorts, for school administrators when they have been conducting searches for head coaches over the years.
Clifford left Siena after his one season there to become the head coach at Division II Adelph and, then, became an assistant coach at Division I East Carolina University before he was hired by Jeff Van Gundy to be an advance scout with the Knicks.
Clifford has known Van Gundy since they both worked at Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's summer camp in 1985.
They 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 was looking to keep active in basketball 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 head coach.
Van Gundy was so impressed with Clifford that, when the opportunity arose, he brought Clifford into the Knicks' organization.
"He (Clifford) is a person with impeccable integrity," Van Gundy was quoted as saying, when the Bobcats hired Clifford. "He is a brilliant basketball coach who relates to all kinds of people well, and I think he will do a fantastic job with the talent at hand. I'm so happy for one of the good guys in the league to get this opportunity."