Clifton coaches players on basics, situational play

Calaveras High School head basketball coach Kraig Clifton watches his team practice in San Andreas. 

Calaveras Enterprise Sports Editor Guy Dossi spoke with Calaveras High School head boys’ basketball coach Kraig Clifton after Calaveras concluded practice in San Andreas. They spoke of the look of the Calaveras team, the success of the Mother Lode League and Clifton now having a son who is in high school.

Guy Dossi: Well, the season is now here and things are in full swing. When do you start to get the itch to start coaching again?

Kraig Clifton: Through the years, it’s evolved into a year-round thing. We take small breaks here and there, but it really hits hard right after the dead period when the real season is coming.

GD: I know the team that you have at the beginning of the season isn’t the same one you’ll have at the end of the year, so it’s hard to guess what will happen over the next few months, but your roster has a lot of new faces and not a lot of varsity experience. Do you kind of get excited knowing that you might have to do a little more coaching this year, instead of years when you have a more polished team that has a general idea of what to do?

KC: We only have one returner who has significant playing time from last year, so we are really young and that’s not just with age, but with experience. That does change things a little bit. I don’t think it feels any different because the competitive fire is still there, regardless of whether you are picked to be last or first. It gives us a chance to now do different things.

GD: I was watching you at practice and you were going over time management and what to do at the end of a game. For someone like you who has been around basketball his whole life, what to do and when to do it late in the game is now second nature. But for such a young team, I bet the players haven’t even thought about some of the things you are telling them. Do you have to spend a lot of time on situational play?

KC: You have to pound it in a lot. We try to start pounding it in now and gradually do more and more down the road. Obviously, you are not 100% prepared during the first game of the year. We were going over a situational play in practice, and we were talking about going up and getting the ball at the high point. I asked a guy if he ever watched the NFL, referring to defensive backs, and he said, ‘No, not really.’ I asked him if he ever watched the NBA and how they rebound, and it was, ‘No, not really.’ So I had to explain what the high point is and what I expected them to do. There doesn’t seem to be that common knowledge, so we are having to do more breakdown instruction, even more than I had to do with my teams five or six years ago.

GD: Looking at your roster, would you say that you have basketball players or athletes?

KC: That remains to be seen. We are young and have a long way to go, but I do feel that we are getting a little bit better every day and I like that. I’m really struggling to find out what our go-to person, defense, offense and play is. That’s why this preseason is ultra-important to us this year.

GD: How long does it take for you to figure out what kind of players you have?

KC: Typically, it doesn’t take too long because I evaluate the players I had last season and I evaluate the players who were on the JV team. It’s a constant evaluation. We also do a lot over the summer and try things that we may not normally do during the winter and see how we respond to it.

GD: It looks like Sonora High School is going to be the team to beat in the Mother Lode League, as the Wildcats are coming off a section championship season. However, Argonaut was three points away from being two-time Division V section champ last year. Overall, the Mother Lode League has really been successful over the past decade or so, with a number of section titles won. Does it surprise you that sometimes the Mother Lode League gets overlooked?

KC: It’s amazing that the thought that our league should be overlooked even goes through people’s minds. We do have very good players. We may not have as many athletic types of players like some schools in the valley have, but I’ve never seen another league across the board who is coached as well as the MLL.

GD: This year is a special year for you in that your oldest son, Jay, is not only a freshman, but he’s made his way onto your team. Does it make you feel like an old dad knowing that you have a son who is now in high school?

KC: (Laughing) There are a lot of things that are reminding me that I’m the old dad nowadays. It’s really been easy and he’s really easy to coach. He’s respectful and he works really hard. He’s put in a lot of time to earn this spot at a young age and he’s been waiting for this for a long time. As a little kid, he was sitting on that bench. He also has a long way to go because he is a freshman and he’s going to have his ups and downs, and there are going to be some tough times as well as some good times. He wouldn’t be here if he couldn’t help us.

GD: Sometimes, being the child of a coach is a hard position to be in. How are you handling coaching your son?

KC: I just treat him like any other player. On the floor, we are coach and player and when we go home, we are dad and son. As far as any other people saying things, you can never satisfy everybody. I’ve gotten over caring what people think of me a long time ago.

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