FARMINGTON — This is a guarantee. This winter, a lot of high school and college basketball teams all across Maine are going to play some strong defense, particularly when it comes to closing out on shooters on the perimeter. Players who are accustomed to finding wide open threes, or driving past defenders to attack the rim, are going to be shocked at the level of defense they encounter.

It will be a safe bet, when you see a team playing intense defense this winter, the coach of that team attended Steve Clifford’s clinic at the University of Maine at Farmington on Sept. 17.

The head coach of the Charlotte Hornets, Clifford is a UMF grad. On Saturday, he coached up the coaches, offering up his time to dozens of high school and college basketball coaches who came from all over to pick up tips from an NBA coach.

“I’m just coming in with an open mind,” Winslow High School girls basketball coach Lindsey Withee said. “As long as I come out with one new thing, I’ll be happy.”

Withee, along with Winslow boys basketball coach Jared Browne, was lucky enough to attend a Hornets practice and see Clifford in action with his players. On Saturday, the UMF men’s basketball team went through the same drills Clifford uses to coach the Hornets. Clifford also used video of Charlotte games as examples. Defense is Clifford’s wheelhouse. In each of his three seasons so far in Charlotte, the Hornets have finished in the top 10 in the NBA in defense.

“Watch Gilchrist. That’s a sprint to the closeout,” Clifford said, showing video of Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist execute perfectly the technique he was about to teach on the Dearborn Gymnasium court.

“I tell our guys all the time, you’ve got to have a closeout game,” Clifford said.

It wasn’t just Maine coaches who got up early Saturday morning to make the trip to Farmington. Matt McLean and Caleb Page, assistant coaches at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, made the five-hour round trip drive to hear Clifford speak.

“You don’t get to meet an NBA head coach very often,” Page said.

During the first half of the clinic, Clifford didn’t focus exclusively on defense. He discussed the intangibles of basketball, like what makes good team chemistry. Clifford showed video of the Hornets bench going nuts over a teammate’s made layup in the second quarter of a road game in Boston.

“That’s chemistry,” Clifford said. “Chemistry is having guys put winning above everything else, not how they get along. Chemistry, you find out about when you lose five in a row.”

Clifford preached preparation. Before he goes over game film with his team, Clifford already knows everything he’s going to highlight. If you’re preparing for the upcoming season, Clifford said to the coaches listening, you already know which players you’re going to put on the court the most. It’s all part of maintaining a high level of credibility. According to Clifford, that’s a coach’s greatest asset.

“No matter what, everything starts with a level of credibility,” Clifford said. “Your last six players, make sure they know they’re just as important to you as the stars are.”

Save practice time for practice, Clifford advised. Don’t waste practice time to talk to your team.

“I only talk to the group when I have something important to say,” Clifford said. “If you have to talk to your team every day about how hard they’re playing, you’re going to get your (butt) kicked.”

One of the youngest coaches at the clinic, Levi Barnes paid close attention to everything Clifford said. Barnes recently finished his playing career at Thomas College, and is entering his first season as the freshman boys basketball coach at Cony High School.

“Coming out here is one of the best things I can do,” Barnes said. “It’s a tough transition (from player to coach). I tell people all the time, this is one of the hardest things I’ve done. It’s more of a reward, coaching, passing on knowledge. It’s exciting. I’m going to soak up everything he puts on the table. I want to learn as much as possible.”

That bodes well not just for Barnes as he starts his new career, but for the players he’ll instruct.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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