October 5, 2013

TRAVIS LAZARCZYK: Hanging with the pros

By Travis Lazarczyk tlazarczyk@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Lindsey Welch and Jared Browne watched the Charlotte Bobcats prepare for practice and thought, these guys are some of the best basketball players in the world, and they aren't much different than our players.

"They act just like our players. They sit in the stands and talk and joke. They take a little bit longer putting on their shoes than they should. Once they get on the court, it's all business," Brown said.

Welch and Browne, the head coaches of the Winslow High School girls and boys basketball teams, respectively, spent two days last week at the Bobcats training camp as guests of Charlotte's new head coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford was born in Lincoln, raised in Vermont, and attended college at the University of Maine at Farmington. A longtime assistant coach in the NBA, with the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, Clifford finally got his chance to be a head coach in May, when he was hired by Charlotte.

As he crisscrossed the country in the NBA Clifford never forgot his Maine roots. The visit by Welch and Browne was arranged by Phil St. Onge, a Winslow resident and Clifford's college roommate at UMF.

"That was really my first time meeting (Clifford)," Welch said. "Just to see some of the drills that we do at the high school level done by pros was great."

More than two dozen other high school and college coaches were able to watch the Bobcats practice, too, but while they sat up in the bleachers, Browne and Welch received the five star treatment, sitting in the stands pulled out along the baseline. At one practice, team owner Michael Jordan sat a few rows behind the Winslow coaches and watches his team work out.

The Winslow coaches were able to chat with members of Charlotte's entire coaching staff. Who wouldn't want to bend the ear of men like Patrick Ewing, Mark Price and Bob Weiss, men who have spent decades in the NBA.

"All the coaches offered us tips. We had access to anything we wanted," Browne said. "We knew (Clifford) would be a very gracious host."

Before and after each practice, Clifford spoke with Welch and Browne. He explained to them the drills he has his team do, drills the Black Raiders practice.

"That was the most important things for me. Every practice, he came over and spoke to us," Welch said.

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Bobcats went through an intense practice. The last half hour was a scrimmage, divided into two 12 minute quarters. Because the NBA collective bargaining agreement allows for just one full contact practice each day, the two hour workout from 5-7 p.m. was more drills, and five on zero run-throughs.

The Winslow coaches saw Michael Kidd-Gilchrist arrive early and leave late each day. They saw rookie Cody Zeller, a small town guy from Indiana, do his best to fit in with his new teammates.

Browne had met Clifford a few times over the years at the Pine Tree summer basketball camp at Colby College. As a young coach, Browne has used Clifford as an influence. The experience in Charlotte only reinforced in Browne's mind that Clifford is somebody worth emulating.

"I've taken a lot of stuff from him, but now I've seen it executed to perfection," Browne said. "Basically, this is validation that what we're doing as high school coaches is right."

Drills run by the Bobcats will be run by the Winslow basketball teams this winter.

"We can tell the kids, this is the same stuff the NBA players use," Welch said.

Basketball is the same game, no matter the level. Steve Clifford went from UMF to the NBA, but it's nice to see that he's the same, too.

Travis Lazarczyk -- 861-9242

tlazarczyk@centralmaine.com

 

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