Denton: Clifford Practicing What He Learned in Orlando

By John Denton
Dec. 11, 2013

CHARLOTTE – Steve Clifford, a first-time head coach with the Bobcats, makes no bones about what he’s trying to build in Charlotte – an organization similar to the one he was a part of with the Magic.

Clifford was an assistant coach with the Magic from the 2007-08 season through the 2011-12 season while working under head coach Stan Van Gundy. He helped to guide the Magic to the playoffs all five years while he was in Orlando, to the NBA Finals in 2009 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010.

Clifford said a big reason for Orlando’s success not so long ago was the synergy between the Magic players and coaches and the entire staff. Clifford said that winning was the only goal among those working for the Magic, and it helped the organization reach great heights.

``I look back at the time in Orlando and it helped so much,’’ Clifford said. ``The other thing I learned was that the Magic organization was set up so that we were all about winning. We were all committed to the same thing from Day 1.

``Among our coaching staff, Stan was the biggest factor. But, the way (former GM) Otis (Smith) and (former Assistant GM) Dave Twardzik worked with Stan, and our team staff all knew what was expected of us,’’ Clifford continued. ``Our communication, from the top to all the way down, was so good. And everybody knew – and this is what made it fun there – the whole organization from community relations to tickets (sales), they all said the same things and made it all about the players. Everything was done with the players in mind. And when you do that you have a chance to have a lot of fun.

``There are just very few times where you get a total organization to the point of where we were there (in Orlando),’’ he added.

Clifford has surrounded himself with several familiar faces from his time in Orlando, something that has made the transition smoother. Patrick Ewing (associate head coach), Bob Beyer (assistant coach) and Mark Price (assistant coach) were also on the bench with Clifford in Orlando.

``It’s great because we all think the same and talk the same,’’ Clifford said of his staff. ``It’s one thing that we’ve been together, but these guys are so experienced. For your first year, there are a lot of things to deal with, but I never have to come out there and wonder if (the assistant coaches) are working on the right things and talking about the right things. Having a really talented and experienced staff is a good thing to have.’’

HOOISER HANGOUT: Wednesday’s game offered up the first opportunity for former Indiana University teammates Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller to face off in a NBA game. Oladipo was the No. 2 in last June’s NBA Draft by the Magic, while Zeller went No. 4 to the Bobcats. Oladipo and Zeller played together at Indiana for two seasons. The two of them went to dinner on Tuesday night and talked aplenty about making the transition from college basketball to the NBA.

``It was fun catching up with him last night and comparing stories about our rookie year,’’ Zeller said. ``Playing back in Indiana it was definitely fun playing with him those last couple of years and he was always a great teammate. He always brought a lot of energy to the table and I miss playing with him.’’

Oladipo ranks second among all rookies in scoring (13.6 ppg.), steals (1.71) and minutes (31 mpg.). Zeller, who is playing behind Josh McRoberts, is 13th in scoring (5.0 ppg.) and seventh in rebounding (4.1 rpg.).

``It will be amazing,’’ Oladipo said of facing Zeller. ``We’ve gotten close because we went to the same school. It was fun catching up with him yesterday. He’s a hard-working guy and he wants to be great. He just wants to win because he loves winning. … His first year in Indiana was tough, but last year we just got addicted to winning. That’s all that we want to do now.’’


Follow John Denton on Twitter here