Apr 10, 2012
2011-12 Final grades: Ben Clifford
36 games, 4 starts
50.9% - FG
38.9% - 3pt
72.9% - FT
I made no secret early on about my feelings toward Ben Clifford. He became my underdog that I wanted to see succeed after only a few games with his always solid rebounding, never half-assing his effort defensively and his overall motor playing out there. It seemed obvious that he cared as much as anyone else out there earlier on in the year, long before the team found the collective passion that drove them to finish the season as strong as they did (and hey, huge kudos to everyone on that one!)
With the chance to make a historical comparison or two, you know I'm going to! The last USU big man to play as a freshman without two years of growing up on a mission was the legend himself, Nate Harris. Harris, like Clifford, redshirted his first year at USU and was the primary big man off the bench as a redshirt freshman. How the numbers stack up are a bit surprising, keeping in mind that they somehow both managed to average exactly 16.8 minutes per game in their freshman years.
Harris: 5.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg. 16 assists, 39 TOs, 11 blk, 21 stl. - 60.9% FG - 0.0% 3pt - 60.3% FT
Clifford: 4.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg. 13 assists, 30 TOs, 17 blk, 16 stl. - 50.9% FG - 38.9% 3pt - 72.9% FT
Not to say that Clifford is going to be the next Nate Harris, because no mortal man could accomplish such a feat, but he showed a lot of promise this year. Much like Harris did in 2003, Clifford did a lot of things well this season, while other areas needed improvement. Harris improved enough to be a first-team all-Big West guy the next year. All-WAC might be a stretch for Clifford in 2013, but I don't doubt for a second that he could snatch away a starting job if he makes some serious progress.
Positives: It's mostly been mentioned already: Toughness, hustle and rebounding. You've got to include 3-point shooting in there as well. Clifford looks to be the first legitimate 3-point threat from a USU big man since Chaz Spicer, and we all know how that legend played out. Aside from that though, Clifford showed some progress over the year developing a low-post game. Even though it's still largely unrefined, he was working hard at nailing down some moves down low, and a handful of times made some pretty moves to the basket for scores. He's got pretty good quickness for a big man, and if he can develop a first step around defenders like Tai Wesley had with his back to the basket, he'll be legitimately dangerous from everywhere.
Negatives: While there were a few times where his attempts at perfecting new post moves resulted in a pretty basket, there were plenty of other attempts where defenders made a good read on him, yet he still forced a shot. Probably more than anything, the next post skill Clifford should work to perfect is passing out of the post. His 13 assists on the year are evidence of that. On the year, Clifford only had two more dimes than Adam Thoseby did, and in nearly three times the amount of minutes played. Foul trouble also became an issue a couple times, but for the most part you've got to give a freshman big man a pass on that aspect of things. Still, fewer forced shots and more passing out of the post would be big step in the right direction for Ben.
Summary: Statistically, Clifford had a very solid year for a freshman. He was the top scorer off the bench, third on the team in 3-point percentage and blocks, and fourth in rebounds and steals. Until the end of the year he was great in not turning the ball over too, but he racked up more than one-third of his season total of turnovers in the last four games of the season. For the most part though, when it came to doing all the little things and minimizing mistakes he was better than many, if not most freshman to come through USU. He's got a really bright future and showed a lot of promise this year, despite the kinks that came with trying news things to add to his game.
Final grade: B