Ready for Her Close-Up

October 16, 2012

Allie CliftonMaybe as early as Wednesday night’s preseason game against Philly – or maybe during the first few contests of the regular season – you’ll be watching Cavs basketball on Fox Sports Ohio and, at one point, Fred McLeod will toss it to the sideline reporter. And at that point, your first thought will probably be: “Hey! That’s not Jeff Phelps!!”

Of course, if you had watched the pregame show, you’d see that Phelpsie – who served as FSO’s sideline man for the past seven seasons – is back in the studio, co-hosting with Campy Russell.

The face you’ll see patrolling the sidelines, talking to players on their way to the halftime locker room and an assistant coach on the way out, is the newest member of the Cavaliers broadcast team – Allie Clifton.

And when 24-year-old Clifton – the pride of Van Wert, Ohio – asks one of those players or coaches about a baseline pin-down or the Cavs transition defense, viewers will realize immediately that she’s not just another pretty face.

Before starring for the University of Toledo, Clifton – a lifelong Cavaliers fan – had a prolific high school run that saw her become Van Wert’s all-time leader in points, rebounds and steals. With the Rockets, she was a four-year letter-winner and three-time captain. At UT, she started 83 of 100 games and finished with averages of 8.3 points, 4.9 boards and 1.6 assists per contest. She notched double-figures on 41 occasions and is in the school’s top 10 in career field-goal percentage.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Sports Analysis and Communications, Allie earned her master’s in Communications at Toledo. She worked as a color analyst for high school and college hoops for the Buckeye Cable Sports Network (BCSN) and still serves as the sideline reporter for the Toledo Mudhens.

On August 27, Allie Clifton was hired to become the Cavaliers new sideline reporter. You might have seen her in last week’s Cavs-Bucks telecast in Canton and she’ll get one more preseason tune-up before October 30’s opener against the Wizards. sat down with FSO’s newly-minted sideline reporter to talk about her playing days at Toledo, her decision to get into broadcasting and her thoughts on the first Cavaliers team she’ll be covering …

Did you come from athletic family?
Allie Clifton: I did. My dad played football at Wooster. My mom played basketball at Northwest Ohio Lima Branch – it’s called UNOH now. And then my sister played for a year-and-a-half at Central Michigan. She’s two years older than me. So she played in the MAC, too. And then I have a younger brother who’s a sophomore at St. Joe’s. So he’s in D-II basketball right now.

You’ve probably asked this question of players you’ve interviewed, but were there crazy battles in the driveway between you three?
Clifton: There were! My sister is 6-3, so she obviously played in the paint. I played with her in high school for two years, so we butted heads a lot, even though we were sisters. But I felt like we could do that because we’re so close.

And my brother, to this day, plays against me like I’m still a college player. I tell him, ‘I don’t move around like that anymore!’ But he dunks on me and everything. So yeah, there are some sibling battles. But it’s all fun.

How would you describe your game in college?
Clifton: I was a ‘3-guard’ – that’s what I like to call myself. I was a player who liked to be physical. Coach would run plays for me down in the post against a guard. I loved to be physical and draw the contact.

My first two years, I had one coaching staff and then they all got wiped out. We won 10 and 12 games in my first two years. Then our new coach, Tricia Cullop – who’s still there now – came for my junior and senior years. We finished second in the MAC-West my junior year and won it my senior year.

It was incredible – going from 10 wins to 24 in one season.

And Toledo reached the WNITs in your final year?
Clifton: My senior year, we made it to the second round. And (Toledo) won the WNIT the year after I left. (laughs) So, I missed it.

But watching my former teammates accomplish something like that, was awesome, being so recently removed from the game and that team. They were my girls -- it was incredible run!

So how did you decide to go into broadcasting?
Clifton: I was an education major for three-and-a-half years. The day before we had to have classes changed before the last semester of my undergrad, I just said, ‘I can’t do education; it’s not me.’ And I think it was because I was afraid that my career was coming to an end and I wasn’t really ready to give up the game. But as a player, I was done.

So it took me a while to tell my dad – who’s a principal. My family is all in the education system.

I didn’t know how to tell him, but I just said, ‘I want to try sports broadcasting.’

And how did they take it?
Clifton: They were very encouraging. Basically, (they said), ‘It’s (your) life. It’s about (you) being happy in the end.’

And they obviously knew nothing of the broadcasting world. But they were great.

Is there a reporter you admire or would like to emulate?
Clifton: From a knowledge aspect, Doris Burke. And from a reporter standpoint, Rachel Nichols. I think she does a really great job.

Doris, I could listen to her do commentary all day. I used to do color commentary when I was getting my master’s at the Toledo station. Her knowledge and her clarity are phenomenal.

What were your first few broadcast experiences like?
Clifton: I remember when I first started, I did commentary on games. Girls high school basketball. I was awful – so awful! And I would be like, ‘I’m not going to make it.’ I was so bad.

I wanted to do sideline, but I did commentary because that was available. And I was told: Any experience you can get on camera is great.

I had a DVR at home and I would record every game and critique myself. So it was a learning process. It was tough, though.

I obviously started that during getting my master’s. So for two years, I did commentary on boys and girls basketball. And then this last year, I did college basketball – Rocket games. And then I did sideline for the Toledo Mudhens. I’ve done track and field, volleyball – as much as I could do.

It’s been a ride, that’s for sure. I never said no to a call, unless there was a family function. I always did a game when I could. It’s been exciting. And to finally land this job with the Cavaliers, I don’t even think I understand it.

For a former hoops player, how was your first experience covering the Mudhens?
Clifton: My experience with the Mudhens was great!

I never played softball, or really paid attention to the game of baseball at all, so when I was approached with the opportunity, I have to admit, I was nervous.

I think experience having played a sport can be vital in this profession - and never really having any in baseball, it was nerve-wracking. But those I worked with on the broadcast side -- managers, coaches, and players were very good to me. They were patient. They took the time to 'teach' me the game.

At the end of 75 home games, I grew to really love the job and atmosphere of the game.

Have you met the other two-thirds of the broadcast team – Fred and A.C.? And what was that like?
Clifton: It was very exciting. And very calming.

(Fred and A.C.) are great. My dad told me, when I first got the job: ‘Allie, you need to do your research on Campy and A.C.’

He said he was watching A.C. when he was a young boy – it was UCLA-Notre Dame, late at night. And after the game, my dad went down to a neighbor’s driveway to play, and he was A.C. (from then on).

I met them last week, we had lunch. They were just very, very welcoming to me. Totally down to earth.

So, from what you’ve seen so far, what do you think of the first Cavaliers team you’ll be covering?
Clifton: I love their youth. They’re in the gym all the time. They’re hungry.

I read an interview with Kyrie Irving, who talked about the transition from college to pros. That they have to understand that: ‘we work for what we get here.’ And that attitude just stood out in my mind.

I was a player who craved winning. And I can already sense that about these guys.