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Buffs to Rams: Nique Clifford’s journey to becoming a winning player

Nique+Clifford+%2810%29+swings+off+the+rim+after+dunking+the+ball+Nov.+10.
Collegian | Avery Coates
Nique Clifford (10) swings off the rim after dunking the ball Nov. 10. Clifford is in his first season with the Rams after transferring from the University of Colorado Boulder. Colorado State beat Wright State 105-77.

Winning is simple: Score more points than your opponent.

No. 20 Colorado State men’s basketball knows just a little bit about that, starting off the season 6-0 capitalized by a 69-48 win over then No. 8 Creighton.

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A large part of the Rams’ undefeated start to the season has been guard Nique Clifford. While Clifford has only been a Ram for a few games, he’s embodied what it means to be both stalwart and a winning player.

“It’s a really good experience so far,” Clifford said. “We’re having success so far. (We have) just a great group of guys, great coaches and staff. I’ve (done) nothing but enjoy the experience.”

Clifford is averaging career highs across the board at CSU. So far this season, he’s averaged 13 points and seven rebounds while shooting 60% from 3 and the field.

While he has fit in flawlessly with the Rams, his 13 points are a far cry from his average of five when he was playing for Colorado. What’s the change? Simple: a new system and regained trust.

“I think it’s the way we run our offense,” Clifford said. “I’m just more involved as an offensive piece, and my mindset has changed a little bit. (I) just got that confidence back. It’s been a lot of different things that go into it — it’s really just a lot of the coaches trusting me and having that trust in me to go do that thing.”

Coach Niko Medved is all too familiar with how Clifford might fit in the system. When Clifford came out of high school, Medved pushed to recruit him heavily.

While he didn’t land him three seasons ago, it’s always better late than never, but Clifford didn’t let his coach down easily when deciding to finally commit to playing basketball in Fort Collins.

“He kind of tried to make it hard on me,” Medved said. “I remember when he called: It was kind of coming down to crunch time, and he called, and he gave me this whole, like, ‘Coach, I know this has been really hard,’ and he’s giving me that whole deal. And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, he’s about to commit somewhere else.’ He’s like, ‘But, you know, I’m going to come to CSU.'”

Despite Clifford’s approach of giving his coach the run down, there is no doubt that CSU is happy to finally have him playing in green and gold.

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Slotting in seamlessly is something the team knew Clifford would do eventually, but having that perfect chemistry from day one might be a little shocking.

“I knew he would fit in,” Medved said. “He’s fit in even earlier than I expected because it’s a transition. He comes to a new program, and (there’s) different terminology, different ways of thinking, and he’s really picked that up quickly. And he’s such a coachable young man, and he fits really, really well with our team and our culture.”

The cultural embrace is what made Clifford decide that CSU was the place he wanted to be.

With him being so strongly recruited by CSU coming out of high school, there was a prior relationship that existed there. The team maintaining that and continuing their salutations was the drawing force when it was time to make a decision.

“It was really the relationship that they had with me coming out of high school,” Clifford said. “They just stayed persistent with me. Even when I saw them in the (U.S.) Virgin Islands a couple years ago, they were just good dudes and said, ‘What’s up?’ and asked me how my family was doing. Certain things like that go a long way. So it was an easy decision for me.”

To form a new relationship, sometimes you have to break off an old one. For Clifford, he had to do so when he left CU.

Now he will face his former team when the Buffs travel to Moby Arena for the Rocky Mountain Showdown Nov. 29. While he’s a Ram now, there is sure to be something just a little odd about matching up against people he played with just a season ago.

“I mean, it’s going to be a little weird experience playing against all of my old teammates,” Clifford said. “But at the end of the day, it’s another game. I’m excited, I’m ready to compete against them, and it’s going to be a fun battle. It’s a rivalry: The atmosphere is going to be rocking, and me and the team are going to be ready to go.”

While Clifford prepares to face his former team, even with some of the oddities, he’s helping propel the team.

To Clifford, it might just be another game he’s preparing for, but forward Joel Scott knows all too well about the long-standing rivalry between CSU and CU.

“I’m super excited — it’s going to be a really special atmosphere,” Scott said. “These are the kind of games you wish for as a kid when you’re growing up, especially with me being from Colorado. They’re the ones you hear about.”

The atmosphere is guaranteed to be a special one. Hopefully you grabbed your ticket because Moby is already sold out for the first time this season.

When Moby gets rocking, there might not be anywhere else better than inside the arena. With all of the anticipation and all of the things that come with the Rocky Mountain Showdown, it’s Clifford who is bringing even more energy to the team.

“I wouldn’t say it’s different, but he’s definitely locked in; he’s excited,” Scott said. “You can tell he’s kind of got that swagger about him like he’s ready to go, and it’s exciting to see that he’s ready to go because it kind of gets all of us ready to go a little more.”

Reach Damon Cook at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @dwcook2001.

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About the Contributor
Damon Cook, Sports Editor
Damon Cook is the 2023-24 sports editor for the The Collegian and has been at the paper since August 2022. He started doing coverage on volleyball and club sports before moving onto the women's basketball beat. He is in his third year and is completing his degree with a major in journalism and media communication and a minor in sports management. As The Collegian's sports editor, Cook reports on CSU sports and helps manage the sports desk and content throughout the week. After having a year to learn and improve, Cook will now get to be part of a new age under the sports desk. The desk moved on from all but one other person and will now enter into a new era. Damon started school as a construction management major looking to go in a completely different direction than journalism. After taking the year off during the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly realized that construction wasn't for him. With sports and writing as passions, he finally decided to chase his dreams, with The Collegian helping him achieve that. He is most excited to bring the best and most in-depth sports coverage that The Collegian can provide.

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