Santa Cruz Warriors’ Dennis Clifford Reflects on All-Star Selection

Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

Santa Cruz Warriors center Dennis Clifford deservingly becomes an NBA D-League All-Star in the most unlikely of circumstances.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Without a doubt, 24-year-old center Dennis Clifford has been the most surprising player on the Santa Cruz Warriors this past season.

Recounting the story of how Clifford came to join the D-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors, Santa Cruz head coach Casey Hill provided some context leading up to Clifford earning an unlikely NBA D-League All-Star selection.

"“Yeah it’s funny: when Dennis kinda came across my radar screen, he was literally a 7-footer who I watched a couple clips on — he plays really hard. I read a couple interviews and articles about him, and nothing but phenomenal things about him as an individual, and recognizing the fact that we could take him as a local tryout player? It was kind of a no brainer for us,” said Hill."

For those unaware of certain NBA D-League practices, teams hold local tryouts for players in the offseason, adding up to five of those players with the hope of finding a diamond in the rough. While unlikely, there are a few exceptions every now and then (e.g. Jonathon Simmons of the San Antonio Spurs).

Next: GM Kent Lacob Talks Santa Cruz Warriors Roster

After Clifford went undrafted coming out of the Boston College in 2016, the D-League ended up being the most logical next step for the young big man after declining a lucrative overseas deal in Greece. Hill revealed that the situation in which Clifford stumbled onto the Surf City roster occurred in a case that can only be described as pure happenstance.

"“I knew his agent — it was just kind of a coincidence — and I called him and said ‘Hey, Dennis isn’t going anywhere else; he’s coming to us,'” said Hill. “He said ‘Cool, alright.'”“We never saw him (Clifford) in person until he showed up,” Hill said, “and then when he showed up, everything I had heard about him was not true: like ‘he’s a 7-foot, unathletic kid; a little soft, but shoots midrange jump shots,’ which — that’s not him.”“He does have a midrange jump shot,” Hill quickly clarified, “but there’s so much more to him: he’s got a blue collar around his neck, he comes to battle everyday, he’s got physicality, he doesnt back down from anybody, he’s got spectacular footwork, he’s ambidextrous on the block; so he was a big surprise, and we’ve been able to put him in situations where he can go to work."

Since joining the Sea Dubs, Clifford has played in 33 games (30 starts), averaging 12.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.0 blocks on 59.6 percent shooting from the field. He leads the team in defensive win-shares, and he’s finished with a double-double six times this season.

He’s posted a career-high 26 points twice this season, and he’s pulled down double-digit rebounds 10 times. Statistically speaking, one of his best games came against the Northern Arizona Suns on on Dec. 29, 2016, after he which he finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds, one assist and one block on 11-for-13 shooting (84.6%).

But for all the the things that Clifford does on the court, he’s also done an incredible job off of it. On the surface, he’s a 7-foot-1 big man able to do battle against any center in the league, but beneath his tough exterior is a humble, hard-working guy whom fans have taken a liking to due to the way he carries himself as a professional athlete and great teammate.

Talking to Clifford prior to what would eventually be the first-ever Santa Cruz Warriors game at Oracle Arena, the big man recalled how he felt following the announcement of his All-Star selection, saying that all he could express were feelings of gratitude to his teammates for the role they had in earning him an All-Star spot.

"“I was surprised as first, and then it was just kinda like — I was really overwhelmed with gratuity towards my teammates because it made me really reflect on the season,” said Clifford. “And I’ve grown a lot, but I also don’t think I would be there if it wasn’t for this program.”"

Next: Santa Cruz Warriors President Chris Murphy Talks Record-Breaking Night

Just moments prior, Coach Hill had been asked to recall his conversation with Clifford following the announcement of the D-League All-Star Game rosters, in which apparently Clifford had said similar things.

"“And he even said it to me when I called him after he was named an All-Star — he was like ‘I gotta thank my teammates because they give me the spacing I need to go to work down there,'” said Hill.“He’s a great kid, he’s a good teammate, he stands for all the right things; so it’s always great to see when good things happen to good people.”"

Catch Clifford playing in the NBA D-League All-Star game, which will air live on NBA TV on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 11:30 a.m. PST from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA.