Steve Clifford, head coach of the Orlando Magic, instructs a drill at a coaches clinic Saturday morning at the University of Maine Farmington. Photo by Jennifer Bechard

The upcoming season will be Steve Clifford’s 19th in the NBA. That’s long enough for Clifford to know he can’t take any of it for granted, and also long enough for Clifford to know he belongs in the league.

“I can tell you many times when you’re leaving the arena and you’re driving home, you understand being involved with players of this caliber, coaches of this caliber, is something you never take for granted,” Clifford said. He was standing courtside at the University of Maine at Farmington’s Dearborn Gym, ready to begin a coaching clinic at his alma mater.

In June, Clifford was hired as the head coach of the Orlando Magic. The new job came just a few weeks after Clifford was fired as head coach of the Charlotte Hornets, where he’d coached for five seasons.

“I think I’m confident enough in what I did (in Charlotte) and what I’ve done. I was confident I would get another opportunity. I didn’t know if it would be this year or not,” Clifford said. “I interviewed at a couple other places and I had talked to some people about being an assistant. I was going to coach this year no matter what.”

Steve Clifford, head coach of the Orlando Magic, instructs a drill at a coaches clinic Saturday morning at the University of Maine Farmington. Photo by Jennifer Bechard

For the few dozen high school and college basketball coaches in attendance for Clifford’s clinic, the message was simple. Basketball is basketball. The drills Clifford uses in his NBA practices can help their teams. Basketball is not a complicated game, even when we try to make it so.

“I think we practice just like a high school or college team,” Clifford said. “Everything is fundamentals based… You start with the basics. Build the right foundation.”

Before the clinic began, Clifford recalled his first NBA practice, with the New York Knicks at the College of Charleston. The Knicks were a veteran team, with stars like Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby. Those players were very receptive to the teaching that came from head coach Jeff Van Gundy, as well as assistants Tom Thibodeau, Don Chaney, Kevin O’Neill and Clifford. As he walked back to the team hotel after practice, Clifford marveled at the hard work the players were eager to put in.

“Great players being receptive to learning the system of play as I’ve ever seen. From that day on, I didn’t know where it would take me. I just remember going back to the hotel, and it was a high for me knowing then I could stick in this league,” Clifford said.

Team chemistry can be defined easily, Clifford said.

“How many guys on your team put winning above everything else?” he asked.

Clifford focused his oncourt instruction on aspects of the flash game in an offense. The flash game entails a big player flashing from the low to high post, with a point guard and a wing building off that one motion. If the wrong player is in a pick and roll, it can stall an offense, Clifford said. The flash game makes it hard for defenders to switch up, and it helps the pace of play. In two of his five recent optional workouts with the Magic, the flash game was the focus, Clifford said.

Members of the UMF men’s basketball team demonstrated the plays Clifford taught. Over and over and over. Do not be surprised when you see college teams like UMF, Husson or UMaine-Presque Isle, or high school teams like Skowhegan, Madison, Nokomis or Brunswick, incorporate this into their half court offense next season. Coaches from those schools were among those carefully watching and listening as Clifford put UMF through the paces. Watch these teams, and watch the Magic do the same things on the bigger stage.

Steve Clifford, head coach of the Orlando Magic, speaks at a coaches clinic Saturday morning at the University of Maine Farmington. Photo by Jennifer Bechard

He kept it simple at first, gradually building layers into the system.

“We’re just playing ball,” Clifford often repeated.

Effort should be a given, Clifford said, and should not need reminding.

“They know they have to pay attention and work hard. If all you ever do is remind them, you’re not going to win,” Clifford said.

The game is the same, no matter the talent level.

“You win or lose for the same reasons. The rules are different, the shot clock is different, and obviously the players are the greatest players in the world (in the NBA). That’s where the differences come in. More leadership, game management, things like that,” Clifford said, “but basketball is basketball.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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