Oct. 17, 2008
Cliff Hammonds is among the most decorated student-athletes in Clemson history. Today, the former Tiger basketball guard, who graduated this past May, will receive another award when his family accepts the annual IPTAY Athlete-of-the-Year award, an honor that is presented each year to the top student-athlete at Clemson. (Cliff will not be here in person because he is in Turkey, beginning a professional basketball career.)
While this is a high honor, it will not rank as the most meaningful of his career. No disrespect to the Clemson Athletic Department and IPTAY, who funded his scholarship the last four years, or to the ACC coaches and administrators who presented him with the first Skip Prosser Award as the top all-around basketball student-athlete in the ACC last year. Nor to the people who select the national finalists for the Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar Award.
The most meaningful award Hammonds received last year did not take place at a sports banquet or prior to a basketball game. It took place in a classroom on April 18. On that day, the Clemson University School of Architecture held its senior presentation day. At the conclusion of the presentations, various awards were given. During this ceremony, a special presentation was made.
Some of Hammonds’ classmates and professors surprised him with a Citation for Excellence signed by Clemson President Jim Barker, College of Architecture, Arts, & Humanities Dean Chip Egan, and School of Architecture Chairman Ted Cavanaugh.
The citation recognized Hammonds for “quiet leadership, discipline, and collegiality during the four years of undergraduate architectural education while at Clemson University.” Hammonds was also presented with a book signed by his four-year architecture classmates.
Hammonds distinguished himself on the hardwood as a starting guard and on-the-court leader. Academically, he stood out among his classmates in both of his majors (architecture, psychology). Teammates and classmates both respected Hammonds’ work ethic.
“He’s such a special student,” said architecture professor Lynn Craig. “He represents the University so well and he’s a good student. He has the respect of his peers. There was really no category of award that fits his criteria, so we created this special recognition for him. We’ve never done anything like this before, but we’ve never seen anyone quite like Cliff.”
Hammonds’ fellow students would watch a road basketball game on a Wednesday night in Raleigh, NC, and they took notice when he was in class the next morning at 8:00 AM. They also took notice when he worked all night on an architecture project on a Wednesday, then played an ACC game hours later.
Architecture is a difficult, time-consuming major. There is a reason Hammonds became the first Tiger scholarship basketball player on record to earn a degree in that academic discipline (nevermind a double major in psychology).
Hammonds finished his Tiger career as a three-time member of the All-ACC Academic basketball squad and was a 2008 First-Team Academic All-District III selection by CoSIDA. The Cairo, GA native finished with a 3.3 career GPA with a double major in architecture and psychology. He was one of three Tiger student-athletes to receive the ACC’s Weaver-James-Corrigan postgraduate scholarship for the 2007-08 academic year. A five-time Dean’s List honoree, Hammonds was also a member of Clemson’s prestigious Blue Key Honor Society.
On the court, Hammonds is one of only five players in ACC history with at least 1,400 points, 400 rebounds, 400 assists, and 200 steals in his career. A four-year starter, he finished his career in the top 10 in school history in games, starts, three-pointers, assists, and steals.
Hammonds was named Third-Team All-ACC on the court last year and first-team Academic All-ACC. He became the first Tiger since 1967 to be chosen All-ACC on the court and in the classroom in the same year. He was also named first-team All-District III by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
Most importantly, he was the leader of a senior class that won 84 games in four years, tying the school record for wins in a four-year period. That included 25 victories in 2006-07 as a junior and 24 wins in 2007-08 when he led the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 seasons and to the championship game of the ACC Tournament for the first time in 46 years.
“Cliff is the best all-around student-athlete I have been around in all my years of coaching,” said Head Coach Oliver Purnell. “Cliff has the total package. He has been an outstanding player, one who ranks among the top players in ACC history when it comes to his contributions in many different areas of the game. He is a top student with an academic honor roll résumé in a unique double major. He is also an outstanding husband, father, and person.”
I have been at Clemson for over 30 years now, and I would be hard-pressed to come up with a Clemson student-athlete who had more respect from his teammates, coaches, the student and academic community, and Clemson’s fanbase. That list includes many successful former Tigers, including former basketball standout Bobby Conrad, who is now a federal judge in North Carolina.
My most-lasting personal memory of Hammonds took place at Florida State in January of 2007. Playing in front of just about the entire town of nearby Cairo, he had a memorable day on the court, leading the Tigers to a 68-66 win. Most importantly, he scored the winning basket on a driving layup from the left side with just 2.3 seconds left.
He had played just about every minute and was dehydrated after the game. His teammates carried him off the court, partly in celebration, but mainly because he had trouble walking.
In the locker room, the dehydration set in and he needed multiple IVs. After the radio broadcast, I went back to the locker room to congratulate him and I saw that would take a while, because that Cairo fanbase was also waiting to see its favorite son. When I went inside the locker room, he was in the training room hooked up to his second of three IV bags.
What was special about this moment was his mother, who had come into the room to check on her son. She was standing next to him while he lay on the training table, rubbing his legs and singing a gospel hymn, trying to help him get through the discomfort. She stayed there until he had enough strength to stand up and walk out.
I will always remember that moment, because it showed me why Cliff Hammonds was a person of high character. He came by it naturally.
Tim Bourret is Clemson’s Sports Information Director and is in his 31st year at Clemson.
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