Steve Clifford was born in Island Falls and played basketball at UMaine-Farmington. He has served in various coaching capacities in the NBA for more than two decades, and is now working as a consultant with the Brooklyn Nets. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Basketball is the same whether it’s played in high school, at a NCAA Division III program, or in the NBA, according to Steve Clifford. The veteran NBA coach and University of Maine at Farmington alum can’t stress that enough. The fundamentals don’t change with the talent level of the players on the court.

It’s those fundamentals that Clifford, a 1983 graduate of UMF, will stress when he conducts a coaching clinic at the school on Saturday.

“I’ve just always done it to help out the program. It’s just one of the ways I can give back to the school. I had such a great experience there with Coach (Len) McPhee and my teammates and the school. It’s always great to go back,” said Clifford, who stepped down as head coach of the Orlando Magic in June and now works as a consultant with the Brooklyn Nets.

Saturday’s clinic will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at UMF’s Dearborn Gym. The cost is $40.

Skowhegan High School boys basketball Coach Tom Nadeau said he uses concepts he learned at Clifford’s coaching clinics with his team.

“Much of what I have seen from Coach Clifford is high level stuff, obviously beyond the high school level, but I have been able to take pieces of what Coach Clifford teaches and applied it to what we do at Skowhegan,” Nadeau said. “Any pick-and-roll action we do, offensively and defensively, goes back to a Coach Clifford clinic or two. Several drills we do and concepts we teach regularly, offensively and defensively, again goes back to a Coach Clifford Clinic.”

Born in Island Falls, Clifford attended North County Union High School in Newport, Vermont, before enrolling at the University of Maine at Farmington. He was a two-year captain with the Beavers basketball team.

Clifford, 59, coached the Magic for three seasons, reaching the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2019 and 2020. This past season, Orlando dropped to 21-51 and began a rebuilding process, trading starters Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. Clifford declined to comment on why he chose to leave the Magic, citing a non-disclosure agreement. In early June, team president Jeff Weltman said Clifford’s departure was a mutual decision, as he and the rest of team management disagreed on the direction of the team.

“At the end of the day, I think Jeff Weltman, our president, said it best. We just didn’t agree on how we should go forward. That was really how it ended,” Clifford said.

Clifford’s coaching career began at Woodland High School, and he made numerous stops in the college game before moving to the NBA as a scout for the New York Knicks in 2000. Prior to becoming head coach of Orlando in 2018, Clifford served five seasons as head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. In eight seasons as a NBA head coach, he compiled a 292-345 record.

Now Clifford is working as a consultant with the Nets. He described the job’s duties as whatever head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks want him to do. Last week, Clifford was in Brooklyn as the coaching staff prepared for the start of preseason camp later this month.

“It’s really kind of ever-evolving,” Clifford said. “Right now it’s we’re here for coaches meetings. Guys are in working out. It’s really planning training camp, talking about the plan for the year, watching some film to get up par on personnel. It’s a lot of studying and meeting for discussions.”

The Nets went 48-24 in the regular season last season before falling to the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Injuries to stars James Harden and Kyrie Irving hampered the Nets in the postseason.

“Obviously, they had a great year last year and had some untimely injuries in the playoffs. You can tell from the vibe in the building there’s a lot of excitement for the season,” Clifford said.


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