March 7, 2008
You could excuse Holy Cross center Tim Clifford if he had a "Big Man on Campus" feel entering the 2007-08 season. He was named the Patriot League Preseason Player of the Year on the team that was tabbed preseason favorite. At 6-foot-11, 265 pounds, Clifford stands as one of the most imposing figures in the League and is in the Patriot League top 10 list for career blocked shots.
But none of that has changed the way Clifford approaches the game or his role on the Crusaders.
"You know I never took the player of the year thing to heart," Clifford said. "I thought it was nice, but I know we have guys that deserve it too and my teammates will make a big difference. The preseason favorite title was a lot closer to my heart."
Clifford's humble attitude extends to his shot-blocking abilities.
"I think my height has the bulk to do with it," he said. "Some guys have great leaping ability or timing as their strength, mine is that I'm close to 7-feet tall. I have to adjust to the way people shoot the ball and timing is a key, but mostly it's just clogging the middle."
That attitude has served Clifford well through his years with the Crusaders, but he did need to become more of a vocal leader for the team this season. After making the NCAA Tournament a year ago, Holy Cross graduated accomplished stars Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas. Clifford entered the year as the top player on the roster, and has taken on the responsibility and expectations that come with it.
"It's definitely been a big adjustment for me," he said. "I'm kind of quiet and introspective and being more of a symbol for the team is a change. Having the support of my co-captain (fellow senior Kyle Cruze) has taken a lot of the load off."
Perhaps Clifford has his sights set on team accolades because he has experienced so much success in his career at Holy Cross. Clifford and Cruze are trying to become the first two Patriot League players to be on a team that participates in the League Championship game in each of their four seasons. After losing to Bucknell in the 2005 and 2006 title affairs, Clifford and the Crusaders beat the Bison, 74-66, at the Hart Center last year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
After earning a No. 13 seed, the Crusaders lost in the first round of the NCAAs to No. 4 Southern Illinois, 61-51. But Clifford said the experience will stay with him forever.
"It was great, not many people get to do that," he said. "Little things surprise you, like the organization, hotels and experience of being on a huge stage against a quality opponent. It was a lot of fun and I just want to get back there, and get a win this time."
First, Clifford will try to lead his team to a historical run to a fourth consecutive Patriot League Championship game.