Clairton's Clifford left his mark on court, as well as football field
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Bryon Clifford enjoyed and was sometimes amused by the circus that tended to follow Clairton's boys basketball team this year.
It wasn't out of the ordinary for fans at road venues to be buzzing to get a glimpse of any one of three Pitt football recruits: Terrish Webb, Titus Howard or Tyler Boyd.
“Yeah, they would bring in a lot of fans,” Clifford said. “But the way I look at it was if I put on a show, they will notice me as well.”
Before you knew it, people curious about the Killer T's would go away dazzled by No. 3.
Clifford helped Clairton to a section title, a colossal WPIAL playoff upset over Lincoln Park and a trip to the WPIAL championship game for the first time in seven years all while being the unquestioned leader of a team full of Division I athletes.
And for that, Clifford is the Daily News Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
“It is not like I am a big name on the football field,” Clifford said. “I try to get myself out there during basketball so people know who I am.”
Clifford, a senior, averaged 17.8 points from the point guard position but was worth much more than that to Clairton.
Clifford, a three-year starter, was Clairton's best shooter, ball-handler, foul shooter and one of its best defenders.
“He controlled the game and he controlled the tempo,” Clairton coach Matt Geletko said. “He was probably the truest basketball player we had on the team and was an extension of me on the court. It didn't take him long to figure out what we wanted to do and what we wanted to do offensively and defensively. He made us go.”
Even though he didn't get the recognition of some of the other football players, Clifford was an important cog in Clairton's run to its fourth consecutive state title and 63 consecutive wins.
While the football season stretched into the basketball season, Clifford refused the urge to pick up a basketball until the football season was over.
“I just waited until football was over,” Clifford said. “Maybe I will take a couple of shots in gym class, but for the most part I wait until football is over.”
Seven days after Clairton beat Dunmore for the state football title, Clifford scored 20 in a season-opening win over East Allegheny.
“Bryon was there at the first practice after football was over and was ready to go,” Geletko said.
While Boyd, Howard and Webb missed intermittent games for football-related reasons throughout the basketball season, Clifford played every game. He helped the Bears to a 13-6 regular-season record and a perfect 10-0 mark in Section 3-A.
“It was tough, but we just had to do what we had to do with what we had,” Clifford said. “Sometimes one of them would play and two of them wouldn't play. We just had to fight through it.”
The way Clifford fought through it was by shooting the ball.
Clifford approached Geletko before the season and voiced his concerns about not shooting enough during his junior year.
“I don't feel like I shot the ball enough last year,” Clifford said. “I was too passive last year and didn't shoot enough. I just wanted to take the game a whole different way, and that started by being more aggressive.”
Clifford scored 21 in an opening-round playoff win over St. Joseph then followed that with 14 against Union, 10 against Lincoln Park and 20 against Vincentian before dropping 25 in a first-round state playoff win over Cochranton.
“I can't tell you how much he meant to our team,” Geletko said.
Despite his abilities, Clifford's basketball career may be over.
He hasn't gotten many looks from colleges and may choose to walk on at Youngstown State, a school where he's been accepted academically.
“I think about (never playing again) all the time,” Clifford said. “It's hard to imagine. You have to think about it as everything happens for a reason. I did what I could.”
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