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The Orange & White Feature Article: Cliff Hammonds

The Orange & White Feature Article: Cliff Hammonds

March 11, 2008

When ballots are tabulated by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association for its 2008 All-ACC team next week, one of two things will occur.

Cliff Hammonds will finally get the long-overdue All-ACC recognition he deserves.

Or another piece of evidence will fall into place supporting Oliver Purnell’s contention that Hammonds is the most underrated player in ACC history.

Either way, count on Hammonds to go on about his business — quietly and efficiently juggling the demands of student, athlete, husband and father.

On his best days, Hammonds is a spectacular college basketball player.

But that’s not what has set the Tigers’ senior guard apart for the past four seasons.

Hammonds thrives in an everyday setting, consistently and reliably doing his job within the context of his team.

He will conclude his career as just the fifth player in the storied history of the ACC to combine 1400 points, 400 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 steals. He has etched his name in Clemson’s record books by starting more games, overall and consecutively, than any athlete in school history. And just one Tiger, Elden Campbell, has played in more victories.

Academically, he will become the first Clemson scholarship basketball player ever to earn a degree in architecture, one of the university’s most highly-regarded and difficult fields of study (and, for him, half of a double-major that also includes psychology).

His professional plans encompass both a continuation of basketball, either in the NBA or overseas, as well as graduate degree.

He hopes someday to head his own design firm.

And there’s no one who knows Hammonds, among teammates, coaches, academic professors or administrators, who doubt for a moment that he’ll accomplish whatever he sets his mind to.

Over the past several months, Hammonds has received numerous honors.

Earlier in the fall, he was inducted into Blue Key, Clemson’s prestigious honors society.

Last month, he was tapped for membership in Clemson’s Athletic Academic Hall of Fame.

And last week he was one of three Clemson student-athletes to receive ACC post-graduate scholarships.

Perhaps next week, he’ll receive another honor.

But whatever comes his way, it’s unlikely that there will be an award that means any more than an informal poll published in Clemson’s basketball media guide, in which every one of the Tigers’ upperclassmen named Hammonds as the teammate they most respect.

“Cliff is the face of our program,” said Purnell. “He’s the kind of kid we go out and try to recruit.”

Hammonds’ Decision Four years ago, Hammonds faced a dilemma.

As a two-sport star at Cairo High School in rural south Georgia, Hammonds received scholarship offers in both football and basketball.

He was offered in football as a defensive back by, among others, Maryland, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Duke. He attended Florida State’s football camp and drew interest from Seminoles’ assistant coach Jeff Bowden as a wide receiver, and might well have headed to nearby Tallahassee had FSU offered.

Eventually, he passed on football signing day and turned his attention to basketball, in which he weighed offers from Clemson and Stanford.

At the time, Purnell and assistant Frank Smith were putting together the pieces of their first recruiting class. They watched Hammonds and liked what they saw – a smart, savvy, tough player who led his team to the final four of the state tournament and earned recognition as Georgia’s 4-A high school player of the year, and who was ranked by one recruiting service as the 21st best point guard in the nation.

Hammonds cast his lot with the Tigers, attracted both by Purnell’s program-building reputation and by Clemson’s architecture program.

At some point along the way, someone surely told Hammonds that scholarship athletes at Clemson don’t take architecture – a major known for its long hours and high demands. If so, he chose not to listen.

In an interview earlier this year with TheACC.com, Hammonds said that he made his choice “basically because of the coaching staff.”

“When I met Coach Purnell and Coach Smith, I knew they were people that if I need them for anything in 15 years and I give them a call and say, `Hey coach I need this, I need you,’ they’re going to be there for me,” Hammonds said. “It felt like family when I came here on my visit.

“It was just something between me and Coach Purnell and the other coaches — we just clicked. I knew Clemson had a good architecture program, but the bottom line is that it was the coaching staff.”

When Hammonds signed with Clemson, his high school coach, Isaiah Chance, predicted exactly the kind of player and student the Tigers were getting.

“He has a complete game — he scores, rebounds, and plays defense,” Chance told CollegeHoopsNet.com. “The kid will do anything that you ask of him. He’s a student of the game who readily displays a high IQ on and off the court. Cliff’s a great person with a great attitude. I could coach him for another 22 years and I don’t know if I would find another kid like him.”

On The Court Hammonds’ debut in a Clemson uniform was anything but under-the-radar.

Just three weeks into his freshman season, he had become one of just a handful of Tigers, and the first in seven years, to be named ACC rookie of the week on multiple occasions.

Hammonds did it on back-to-back weeks in December, 2004, when he had a four-game stretch in which he made 16 of 21 shots, including 12 of 15 three-pointers.

He went on to average 10.6 points per game – third on the team – and led the Tigers in assist-to-turnover ratio and minutes played.

After the season he was named to the All-ACC Freshman team.

It is, to date, the only time his name has been included on an All-ACC list.

As a sophomore, Hammonds again led the Tigers in minutes played, averaged 10.1 points per game and ranked among the ACC’s leaders in steals and assist-to-turnover ratio.

It was more of the same as a junior, when Hammonds served as one of the Tigers’ captains, started every game, averaged 33.6 minutes per contest and scored 11.6 points per game. He ranked among the ACC’s leaders in steals, assists and three-pointers per game.

As he enters his final regular season game at Littlejohn Coliseum, Hammonds ranks second on the team in scoring with a 12.0 average, is second in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio, and ranks among the ACC’s top 10 in assists, steals, three-pointers per game and minutes played.

Hammonds’ numbers speak for themselves, but they tell only part of the story.

More games than not, Hammonds draws the assignment of guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player. He has earned a reputation as one of the ACC’s most tenacious and relentless defenders.

`The Face Of Clemson’ Throughout his four years at Clemson, Hammonds has been no less of a star in the classroom than on the court.

His ability to juggle the time demands of basketball and architecture (not to mention a second major) amazes his peers and professors.

In a recent article in the Charleston Post & Courier, two of Hammonds’ architecture professors spoke about his remarkable academic focus.

“I don’t think he wastes one second,” said Yuji Kishimoto. “I don’t know how he does that. I’m learning a lot from him, how to regulate your life and your precious time.”

“You can’t hide here in architecture,” said Harry Harritos. “The day after they lost at North Carolina, he was right here in class the next morning.”

Hammonds’ interest in architecture began as a child, when his grandfather worked as a construction project manager at Disney World.

His says time management is the key to his ability to excel on multiple fronts.

“Knowing when it’s time to come on the court and work on your game and also knowing when it’s time to do your work off the court and in the classroom,” Hammonds told TheACC.com. “That’s the biggest thing — just knowing when and where.

“I think I learned that from my two role models, my parents. They taught me at a young age, `You’ve got to get your school work in first and then you can go have fun, go out and do whatever activity you want to do. But first and foremost is get your education.'”

There have been times, nonetheless, where there simply was not been enough time to go around – when architecture studio projects turned into all-nighters, followed by classes and basketball.

Teammate Sam Perry told the Anderson Independent-Mail last week that there’s nothing normal about Hammonds’ ability to work so efficiently. “He’s a robot,” said Perry. “If anyone tries to use him as an example, I say you can’t use him. He’s not normal. He’s a machine. He’s the example of how a person should be…He’s like a guy you don’t find in this day and time.”

During his career as a coach, academic advisor and administrator, Clemson senior associate athletic director Bill D’Andrea says he’s never encountered anyone who embodies the concept of `student-athlete’ better than Hammonds.

“I’ve worked with young people for 26 years, including 12 years at Vickery Hall, and I would say that Cliff is the athlete who exemplifies the term `student-athlete’ better than anybody I’ve known that’s come through here,” D’Andrea said. “Here’s a guy who’s done just an amazing job of balancing two consuming commitments in architecture and athletics. I really don’t know of another student-athlete who’s done that with more focus and discipline and persistence.

“And as an athlete, I think he’s an under-recognized ACC player. We certainly embrace him at Clemson, but in the conference I don’t think he’s ever gotten the credit he deserves.

“I think Oliver is right when he called Cliff `the face of our program.’ But he’s not just the face of that program; he’s the face of Clemson.”

Family Matters Hammonds credits much to his parents for helping to mold the young man he is today.

“Growing up they showed me right from wrong,” he told TheACC.com. “They were perfect examples of how to live right, what to do right. When I messed up, they always taught me, yet disciplined me in the same respect.

“It’s just something that I want to carry on in the way I raise my children and the way I look at family life — just looking at what they did and trying to go about doing it the same way they did it.”

As he looks forward to the end of his collegiate career, Hammonds said he’s most looking forward to being reunited full-time with his wife, Lakendra, and their 14-month-old son, Clifford Daniel Hammonds V.

Sweethearts since the eighth grade, the couple married last summer, but now live five hours apart as Lakendra finishes up her degree in psychology at Thomas University in Thomasville, GA. She also works as an activity therapist at Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville, and their parents, who live in nearby Cairo, lend a hand with child care.

Hammonds, whose wedding party included teammates Perry and Matt Morris and Florida State’s Toney Douglas as groomsmen, is currently Clemson’s only married player.

He keeps in touch with Lakendra several times a day by telephone, and she and Cliff V make the trip to Clemson as often as possible.

As he considers his future plans, Hammonds prioritizes the importance of family.

“My dad always says there is more to life than bouncing a basketball — when things are going good and when they are going bad, just knowing that there’s more out there than just playing ball,” Hammonds said. “One day that’s all going to be over and you’re going to have to do something else.

“When I’m going good or I start getting a little cocky, that’s just a reality check for me. If I’m doing well in basketball, I know that’s not the only thing that’s going on. There’s family you have to worry about and other stuff in your life you have to worry about, so you can’t get a big head, you have to stay grounded.”

Highest Respect Purnell describes Hammonds as the most highly respected student-athlete he’s ever coached.

Around the ACC, rival coaches watch Hammonds with similar appreciation.

“I absolutely love him,” NC State coach Sidney Lowe recently told TheACC.com. “I love his demeanor. I love the way he approaches the game. I think he’s the heart and soul of his team with his energy and just the way he plays.

“He’s the one guy who we showed to our team, clips of him, on hustle plays. He was on the bench and Oliver called him to go in the game (and) he sprinted off the bench to the scorer’s table. That tells you a little bit about a player and how he appreciates this game and how he plays this game.

“I think he’s a tremendous young man. He’s a great talent and I admire the way he approaches the game on this level.” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton agreed. “He seems to always be the guy that, when the game is on the line, steps up and makes the good decision or the right play,” Hamilton said. “He seems to have that knack for just doing the things that give them the chance to win. He’s smart, very competitive and I think that puts him in a very special category.”

In nearly 80 minutes of toil against Hammonds this season, Miami’s Jack McClinton – the ACC’s top three-point shooter and a dangerous scorer from any spot on the floor – managed to score his season average, but only with a sustained effort to match Hammonds’ intensity and persistence. “He’s a great defender,” said McClinton after the Tigers’ victory over the Hurricanes last week.

“Jack’s a great offensive player,” said Clemson’s K.C. Rivers. “He got his points, but he worked hard for every one of them.”

Unfinished Business Before he walks off the court for the final time as a collegiate player, Hammonds has some unfinished business to attend to.

He and his teammates took an important stride in that direction last week by winning what Purnell described beforehand as “our biggest game of the season so far.”

Hammonds is part of a senior class that four years ago set its sights on returning Clemson to ACC and national prominence – a focus which has brought them to the very doorstep of an NCAA tournament bid.

The Tigers, who entered their weekend game at Maryland sitting alone in third place in the ACC with an 8-5 record, have assured themselves of no worse than a .500 conference finish – something just 10 previous Clemson teams had done, and which is traditionally considered a benchmark for an NCAA tournament invitation.

They might still be looking to reach that threshold had it not been for Hammonds’ timely efforts against Miami – a performance that typifies what Clemson’s coaches and players have come to expect from their senior captain.

With the Tigers trailing 60-59 with under seven minutes remaining, after Miami had clawed back from a 21-point first-half deficit, Hammonds singlehandedly turned the game’s momentum – first with a short baseline jumper to put Clemson back on top, and then by blocking McClinton’s shot on a drive in the lane at the other end of the floor.

The Tigers went on to outscore Miami 20-9 the rest of the way.

“Cliff’s blocked shot on McClinton was the play of the game,” Purnell said.

Afterwards, Hammonds was talking `team.’

“We’re not the kind of team that is going to fold,” Hammonds said. “We kept our poise, stayed calm, battled to the end, and a lot of guys made plays. My part tonight was to play defense. That’s what I hang my hat on, and that’s what we hang our hat on as a team.

“This was a game of wills. They willed their way back and took the lead, and we came back and made the plays we had to make to win the game.”

Now, with back-to-back 20-win seasons under their belts for just the second time in school history, Hammonds says the Tigers want more.

“I think we’ve said something about the direction this program is headed, and what Coach Purnell’s vision was when he came here,” he said. “He’s got the type of players he wants, and we’re all giving it everything we’ve got.

“Everybody wants to win, and everybody wants to get to postseason play. It would mean a lot to this program, and to all of us, especially the seniors. We’ve put in the work, and we’ve been so close.”

Now, he believes it’s the Tigers’ time.

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