At first glance when you observe 25 year old Dennis Clifford, his 216cm frame stands out with long arms dangling, but he has two positive traits that aren´t necessarily present in everyone, but definitely two things that any person would love to have not only professional basketball players. Besides being a very skilled professional basketball player, the Bridgewater, Mass native has a very good character and also knows how to joke around, but at the same time knows when it´s time to be serious. Before having an illustrious basketball career at the well Known Boston College where he got the fullness of intellectual life while experiencing the big religious tradition the school offers, he got his last year of high school learning at the top prep school Milton Academy 15 minutes outside of Boston where a part of it´s mission statement expressed Embracing diversity and the pursuit of excellence, while creating a community in which individuals develop competence, confidence and character. His character definitely was made in these two places of learning and a big reason why Alba Berlin hauled in the big man as they learned from their roster fluctuations from last season as the team chemistry just didn´t function without having stellar character players. But just because you have a strong character doesn´t mean that you have to refrain from having fun and only thinking about what is proper 24 hours a day. Clifford also knows how to have a sense of humor and might have indirectly picked up on how to tickle a German´s sense of humor when he played at Boston College and was roommates with German national player Patrick Heckmann. He is one of those guys that likes to joke around, but he learned at Boston College that when comparing countries, you shouldn´t mess with Germany and Patrick Heckmann. “Pat Heckman was my roommate in college so we would always talk trash about Germany vs America”, joked Dennis Clifford. On the basketball side, Clifford has already been near the NBA world as last season as a rookie he played with the Santa Cruz Warriors (D-League) playing 38 games averaging 11.9ppg, 8.1rpg, 2.0apg, 1.0bpg, FGP: 59.2%, FT: 64.5%. “My experiences in Santa Cruz were all positive. I was kind of an unknown player when I arrived in Santa Cruz, and my teammates and coaches really helped me develop into the player I am today. I like to believe that I was really close to a NBA call up last year. I heard rumors of almost getting one before my injury”, stressed Dennis Clifford. This season with Alba Berlin the American has been very solid in the BBL and Eurocup being very consistent in both competitions putting up 11/5 stats. The American takes a lot of pride on his defensive game and knows no matter what that will always save a not so bright offensive day. “I have always loved playing defense because no matter if youre having a bad day on offense, you can always play good defense. In the last few years I have added a lot of strength and I think that has helped me a lot with my defense and physicality”, expressed Dennis Clifford. Even if he might not have noticed yet that his fine basketball IQ has already grown due to his new teammate Luke Sikma who has the perfect basketball IQ. “On transition, offense and defense I think I can really help the team by being quick and making good decisions”, added Dennis Clifford. His character will bring him a long way, but one thing is missing from making the next step. “I think I still need to be more of a physical presence on offense and defense in order to get to the next level”, said Dennis Clifford. Even if the NBA doesn´t pan out, he must of got the best of Heckmann on the joke side as he is already growing a love for Germany. “If the NBA doesn´t work out I would love to have a long and prosperous career in Germany”, warned Dennis Clifford.
After the disastrous last season where Alba Berlin finished in sixth place and were manhandled by FC Bayern Munich in the playoffs, it was time for Alba Berlin CEO Marco Baldi to sit down and conduct some serious soul searching . The only bright spot was their offense last season where they averaged 81 points per game. But they really floundered on the defensive end as the once strong defense that coaches like Luca Pavicevic and Sasa Obradovic had prided was nonexistent as they allowed 81 points in the BBL and even worse 91 points in the Eurocup. They also lost a handle under the boards grabbing only a pathetic 27 per game. The first order was bringing discipline back to the club and they brought in Spanish legend Garcia Aito Reneses. Who could forget last summer the first speculations that Denis Wucherer might be the next coach? Instead Garcia Aito Reneses was named and many moaned why him. Now nobody is moaning anymore as Alba Berlin is back on track to living up to it´s proud tradition as the club is playing well again and near the top of the standings. The real basketball experts had their thumbs up because he is a Spanish legend and real basketball teacher. His success speaks for itself as he has won 3 ACB titles and three cups with FC Barcelona as well as 2 Eurcups in the 80´s and 90´s, the Korac cup in 1999 and demonstrated his coaching skill winning the Uleb Cup in 2008 with DKV Joventut Badalona. He also won a silver with the Spanish national team at the 2012 Olympics. He has brought excitement back to the Alba Berlin community after last season´s horrible finish losing 9 of their last 14 and then sinking against FC Bayern Munich. This season he has brought back discipline to the team and a club that has prided it´s self on defense under Pavicevic and Obradovic are back to defending like they know how allowing only 71 points per game third best in the BBL.
It´s no secret that having good team chemistry has to do with getting the right mix of players as well as keeping the correct players. The club didn´t have an easy job as most left from last season, but it held Germans Niels Giffey(last season BBL 8.3ppg, 3.9rpg, 1.4apgEurocup 6.6ppg, 2.4rpg) Bogdan Radosavljevic(last season BBL 5.3ppg, 1.9rpg Eurocup 4.7ppg, 2.4rpg) and Akeem Vargas that combined have eight years of service with the team. Giffey ´s stats are a bit down from last season, but is shooting over 50% from outside while Radosavljevic is extremely effective and efficient in the minutes he is getting from the bench. The key player is Peyton Siva who had a solid season last season despite the troubles with the play of the team, but this year is making the next step as he already proved with upping his stats and showing he can lead a team. The three Americans have panned out to be excellent signings as Aito knew Sikma from the ACB who reads a defense as well as Tom Brady does an NFL defense and is averaging four assists a game, Spencer Butterfield is shooting over 50% from outside and Dennis Clifford is bringing stability to the paint. All three are known as super character guys. Aito had Lituanina Marius Grigonis last season and his hot shooting and annoying defense have also paid off. Stefan Peno is the only player that hasn´t panned out, but he is only 20 years old and already showed glimpses of brilliance in the Europcuo with 15 and 12 point games. One can only wonder if Alba Berlin has a second Brendan Rooney as scout?
Basketball fans in Berlin have been living an annoying titleless basketball life since 2008 without a league title and if this season´s team has enough to win the title is hard to say at this time, but the team has the ability to be way better than last season. So far the club has shown it´s an upgrade from last season. The club has quickly gotten on the same page on defense but had a few accidents against Munich and Bayreuth that resulted in loses, but overall this team has a lot of potential and will continue to heighten their game. They have a lot of scoring power and will continue to improve there as the chemistry continues to build with experience. The rebounding is still a work in progress, but with the experience of Aito something they didn´t have last season on the sidelines, this team should if injuries don´t totally get in the way at least reach the semi finals or even the finals should everything go right. It´s good to have a successful Alba Berlin back so Munich and Bamberg have someone to worry about in the rear view mirror. The team is very talented and the current team chemistry is very scary. The key is a consistent potent Peyton Siva doing his playmaking thing and the three Americans Sikma, Butterfield and Clifford. If these three character guys can stay healthy then they might bring back memories to a certain year 2008 where two other great American character guys Julius Jenkins and Immanuel Mcelroy who had some kind of say in winning the league title. But before they can continue to dream very casually about the league title and cup, they have to take it game by game especially in the BBL, a league that becomes closer and closer competition wise. They first have to get by the Fraport Skyliners this weekend who have been drastically hit by the injury bug. Frankfurt has been playing brilliant considering their seven man roster, but suddenly were hit with three injuries to Jonas Wolfarth-Bottermann, Richard Freudenberg and Shawn Huff last week. The injury bug continued with top scorer Philip Scrubb and center Mike Morrison. A team reeling for healthy bodies is meeting a power and offensive hungry Alba Berlin who are shooting out the lights as Butterfield, Grigonis, Giffey and Saibou are hitting over 40% from the parking lot. The Fraport Skyliners aren´t where they want to be yet with their consistent defense as it is still a work in progress, but gradually getting better, but now meet a very strong offensive team where their defense will be tested and are undermined while their team chemistry was hit with the injury bug. Frankfurt head coach Gordon Herbert is known for expertise scouting and he will really be tested for his qualities in this game. Every time Frankfurt played against strong teams this season, they have faltered and it most likely will be like that again this season. The Fraport Skyliners will likely suit up half their Pro B team for this encounter.