Courierarea Player of Year Clifford’s well-rounded skillset sweeps top awards
Thursday, March 16, 2017 3:03 PM
By anybody’s standard, Kaylee Clifford had a pretty good junior year for Trimble County a season ago. She averaged 11.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while leading the Raiders to their second-straight district title and first trip to the Sweet Sixteen since 1981.
2016-17 Madison Courier Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Kaylee Clifford of Trimble County. (Courier file photo by David Campbell)
But Clifford knew that she could do better and from the moment her senior season began, she kicked her game into a whole new level and posted one of the best seasons this area has seen in a decade.
Clifford finished her final high school game averaging a Courierarea-best 19.8 points per game as well as 8.0 rebounds per game, both averages up from her 11.1 and 5.1 posted a year ago. She also shot a spectacular 50.8 percent from the floor, including 34.5 percent on 3-point shots, all the while handing the bulk of the Lady Raiders’ ball-handling duties.
It is no surprise then that Clifford has been named The Madison Courier’s 2016-17 Girls Basketball Player of the Year. In addition, she is also our Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year for her strong overall play on both sides of the court.
It is just the latest in a series of awards Clifford has garnered, ranging from Eighth Region Player of the Year to the All “A” Classic All-Tournament Team.
“I knew I had to be stronger this year and I had to score more and do more things,” Clifford said. “I had no idea I would be a candidate for Miss Basketball, or Eighth Region Player of the Year. I had no idea I would accomplish these things. But I owe it all to my teammates for helping me out this year. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Athletic and imposing, the 6-foot tall Clifford had the physical tools that any coach covets, including the ability to play all five spots on the floor — both on offense and on defense — and the drive to shine in the biggest games her team played this year.
While she is a dead-eye shooter and a terrific defender, her favorite part of the game is passing. Nothing gives her greater joy then setting up a teammate for an easy bucket.
“I love the assists, I love whipping the ball in there and then hearing the ref say, ‘Nice pass,’” Clifford said. “That’s my favorite part.”
But her greatest asset may be her humility. A great teammate and more importantly a friend, Clifford prefers to spend her time talking about her teammates rather than herself, and unlike some star athletes, it’s not for show.
“Every day we would sit on the stage and talk about how each other’s day went. We just have fun together. Everybody’s close. We don’t have any drama on the team,” Clifford said. “I love that about our team. I’m truly going to miss that next year.”
There is no teammate that Clifford is closer to than fellow senior Shelbe Black. The two have played together since they were in elementary school and knew each other’s movements on the floor like the back of their hands. So intertwined were the two that they went over the 1,000-point mark in the same game last season. Even off the court, they were inseparable.
“It’s awesome to have a best friend out there playing with you. We call each other the ‘Dynamic Duo.’ I don’t know what I’m going to do without her,” Clifford said. “Every game she’s not playing out there is just different for me.”
Led by Clifford and Black, Trimble County had one if its best seasons in school history. The Lady Raiders matched last year’s win total with 24 but suffered three fewer loses. Trimble also reached the Final Four of the All “A” Classic State Tournament for the first time and won the 29th District Tournament for a third-straight year. Unfortunately, the Raiders’ shot a second-straight Sweet Sixteen berth ended in the regional.
It was the All “A” State Tournament, where Trimble beat Presentation and West Carter in the first two rounds before falling to eventual champion Monroe County, that will stand out as Clifford’s biggest memory of the season. Along with getting the wins, just the chance to spend nearly a week in Frankfort with her teammates and not going to school was a memory of a lifetime for Clifford.
“We were out of school, we had so much fun as a team and we bonded a lot,” Clifford said. “Our eighth-grader and freshmen got a chance to come along this year and they’ve opened up so much this year. It was just a really, fun tournament.”
Basketball wasn’t the only thing she took away from the tournament.
“My freshman year when we went down there they had the Dippin’ Dots and I loved the Dippin’ Dots,” Clifford said with a laugh. “This year I had 12 packages of Dippin’ Dots and they cost $4 a pack. When I came home my mom was so mad because I spent $48 on Dippin’ Dots. It was not a good time.”
And what flavor was her favorite?
“Oh Cookies and Cream,” she said laughing. “I had 11 packages of Cookies and Cream and one package of Rainbow Ice. They’re soooo good.”
Clifford’s next step will be off to college where she has already signed to play basketball at Kentucky Wesleyan University in Owensboro next fall. Clifford’s signing in November was under the radar — she admits that she didn’t tell anyone her decision — but she’s excited to move on to the next level.
“Owensboro is a very nice little town and I felt like I was at home,” Clifford said. “People come around and they go to games. It’s a close community like Bedford and the coaches are just like (Trimble County) coach (Kerrie) Stewart. They believe in God, they’re a husband and wife team. I love their style of basketball. It’s kind of like what we play, a five-out. That was my best fit.”
But while Clifford is ready to move on, she couldn’t help but think back to her teammates and a four-year run that saw the Lady Raiders win 85 games over that span.
“I couldn’t thank my teammates enough. I couldn’t do it by myself obviously,” Clifford said. “(The awards) truly mean a lot and I’m truly blessed.”