Nique Clifford made the short trip from Colorado Springs to Boulder to begin his college basketball career, well aware his opportunity would likely not present itself in his freshman year.
Still, going from an all-state player at the Vanguard School to a little-used bench role isn’t an easy fit for a young player. For Clifford, his first year with the Colorado Buffaloes proved to be an extended learning experience, ranging from getting used to that spot on the bench on game days to maximizing his training time competing against leader McKinley Wright IV, now defunct.
“It wasn’t what I expected. I expected to come and play right away, ”said Clifford. “But I took advantage of what happened last season. We had a group of seniors who were experienced and I learned a lot from them every day.
“I started to accept this role. Of course, it’s no fun not to play. Nobody wants to play. But I just learned to take on that role and be a good teammate and learn from these guys, because I knew my time would come. “
That moment is now for Clifford, who is set to compete for a rotation spot in a crowded backcourt competition that will also include returning starter Eli Parquet, last year’s backup point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy, Western transfer. Carolina Mason Faulkner and three new freshmen – Julian Hammond, Javon Ruffin and KJ Simpson. This comes in addition to two players – Clifford’s classmate Luke O’Brien, as well as freshman Quincy Allen – projected to compete for the vacant role of D’Shawn Schwartz as big winger / small. attacker.
Clifford will have the comforts of a year in the program in his back pocket when the Buffs hold the first of their 10 summer practices in late June before an August exhibition trip to Costa Rica. But he won’t have much more gaming experience than the new students. Clifford played nine minutes, a season-high, in Game 2 of the season at Kansas State when the Buffs missed Schwartz and Barthelemy, but probably nothing can be discerned from Clifford’s overall stats (he went 3 for 21 in 14 brief appearances The bench).
Still, as is often the case with head coach Tad Boyle’s schedule, Clifford understands his fate in the rotation will likely be determined at the other end of the field.
“Definitely the defense. I focused on defense, making sure I could lock in and hold multiple positions, ”said Clifford. “That’s my goal. And then deal with the ball. That’s another question that Coach Tad insists on, and I didn’t do a great job last year in training. Especially towards the start of the year, I got better at the end of the year, but that’s another thing I’m focusing on.
By the time the 2021-2022 Pac-12 conference schedule arrives, this backcourt rotation will likely leave a few young players on the outside. Still, that’s the kind of problem good programs tend to have, and Clifford expects to play a key role. role as a young Buffs team attempts to mount a repeat at the NCAA tournament.
“It will be a very good year,” said Clifford. “We have a lot of young talent. We’re already starting to focus, on and off the pitch, in terms of chemistry. It’s going to be a fun year as long as everyone is focused on the end goal and we were like last year, selfless, the sky is the limit for us.