There’s nothing like time spent in Maine to refresh Steve Clifford after another rough-and tumble season coaching in the National Basketball Association.
“Our family has a camp up in Lincoln and I just spent three weeks up there with my parents and my brother and his family and my sister from Texas and her family,” said Clifford, who lived with his family in Mattawamkeag early in his youth.
Clifford, who has coached in the NBA for the last 20 years, recently began his latest job in the association as a consultant with the Brooklyn Nets but will return to Maine to conduct a coaches’ clinic at his alma mater, the University of Maine at Farmington, this Saturday.
Clifford, 59, is joining the Nets after eight years as an NBA head coach, five with the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets and the last three with the Orlando Magic.
Clifford’s tenure with the Magic ended when he and the team mutually parted ways after the 2020-21 season, which concluded after the team dealt away veterans Evan Fournier (to the Boston Celtics), Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline.
The Magic, which qualified for the playoffs in each of Clifford’s first two years in Orlando, finished 21-51 last spring.
Clifford declined to talk about his departure from the Magic, but is looking forward to joining a Nets organization led by superstars Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving that is considered a top contender for the 2022 NBA title after being outlasted in seven games by the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in last June’s Eastern Conference semifinals.
“That part is definitely exciting,” he said. “We’ve been meeting here all week and I’ve really enjoyed it. I know some of the guys on the staff, so I think it’s a good role for me. It will be a good learning experience and obviously we have a terrific roster so especially if we can stay healthy then I think it can be a fun year.”
A four-year starter, two-year captain and twice the team’s defensive player of the year while playing guard for coach Len MacPhee at UMF, Clifford now is considered one of the NBA’s top defensive coaches. His first two Orlando teams were ranked among the league’s top-five defenses.
Brooklyn ranked 21st with 114.1 points allowed per game last season.
Clifford won’t be a full-time presence on the Nets’ coaching staff, but will have his eyes on the team from near and far.
“I’m here a lot this month and through training camp, and I’ll be more of a resource,” he said. “I’ll be watching a lot of film but most of the time I’ll still be living in Orlando. I’ll visit with the team once or twice a month and just take direction from [head coach] Steve Nash, whatever he wants me to do.”
Clifford took basketball direction from his father, Gerald, at North Country Union High School in Newport, Vermont, before continuing his playing career at UMF.
Clifford spent his first two years after graduating from UMF at Woodland High School, where he coached the Dragons to a 31-9 record and back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Maine Class C final in 1984 and 1985.
Clifford then joined the college coaching ranks under longtime Maine high school and college coach Bob Brown — the father of former Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown — at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. That led to other college stops as an assistant at Fairfield, Boston University, Siena, East Carolina and the head coaching job at Division II Adelphi University on Long Island, New York.
He guided Adelphi to four straight 20-win seasons and four NCAA tournament appearances, and also met then-New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who hired Clifford to his staff in 2001.
Clifford also joined Van Gundy with the Houston Rockets, and he later served as an assistant with the Magic — under Van Gundy’s brother Stan — and Los Angeles Lakers before being named Charlotte’s head coach in 2013.
Clifford has conducted several coaching clinics at UMF over the years to support the Beavers’ men’s basketball program.
Saturday’s event will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at UMF’s Dearborn Gymnasium and will provide coaching tips and strategy suitable for all levels. Cost for the clinic is $40, and more information is available by contacting UMF men’s basketball head coach Sam Leal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-778-7148.