Learn how Kings Consultant and multi-time NBA Champion Clifford Ray has helped teach a young Kings team the finer points of the game.
“The game is about deception.”
Clifford Ray is working one-on-one with center Hassan Whiteside after a Kings practice, schooling the second-year player with some of the tricks he learned during his 10 years as an NBA big man and nearly 25 years as a coach in the League.
“What you got to do is be deceptive,” Ray says to a nodding Whiteside. “What you do is set (defenders) up, set them up all the time!”
These teaching moments from the 63-year-old carry great cachet with Sacramento’s young team as Ray came to the River City with an impressive resume.
The former 6-foot-9 center spent 10 seasons in the NBA as a player with the Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors – including an NBA championship run with the latter during the 1974-75 campaign. During his playing days, Ray established himself among the game’s great minds and is one of the rare NBA players to conclude his career with more rebounds (6,953) than points (5,821).
After his on-court days came to a close, the University of Oklahoma product spent time as an assistant with Dallas, New Jersey, Golden State, Cleveland, Orlando and Boston – where he was a part of the coaching staff that guided the Celtics to the 2007-08 NBA title. While in Boston, Ray worked closely with 14-time All-Star Kevin Garnett.
Kings forward Jason Thompson, who admired Ray’s influence on his competitors from afar, says upon the consultant’s arrival, he gained immediate regard in the Kings locker room.
“He’s won championships,” said Thompson. “He knows that you can’t have a big head when good times are going and you don’t want to put your head down when bad times are going.”
Kings Coach Keith Smart, who worked with Ray in Cleveland, says bringing in the pedigreed coach to work with his forwards and centers was a no-brainer.
“He’s been with me for a long time, so I know exactly what his communication (skills) are and what he’s going to be able to do with that,” Smart said. “He’s just a tremendous teacher.”
Ray says the challenge of molding talented young big men, as well as the opportunity to work with his longtime friend were reasons he was drawn to Sacramento.
“I came because I knew Keith Smart,” says Ray. “I was with him when he first started coaching, and I know he has his hands full – he has a big task and a lot of young kids who are all trying to become good players in this league.
“It was a challenge for me to come here because I could have gone to Orlando or done other things, but I just saw all these big young players, as well as the other parts of the team, and I think with the right seasoning and work the rest of the way, this team is going to be a totally different team next year.”
The respected former center stresses that along with size and strength, a focused mental approach is critical in order for a big man to be productive. He also notes it was intellectual stamina that helped push the successful teams he was a part of to the pinnacle of NBA glory.
“Your approach every night is what’s going to set the tone for the game, for yourself and for your team,” says Ray. “It means covering when things breakdown, the work is endless, you have to work hard and you have to be willing. On (my) championship teams, we policed ourselves – that’s what you do.”
Smart believes the multi-dimensional Sooner alum has been an invaluable asset for a hungry team that currently ranks among the League’s youngest.
“He has that ability to be able to communicate to players and share with them the little delicacies of (playing) center and what they can do to win big games and help their career grow,” says Smart.
“He’s very loud and vocal and just giving us a lot of insight on the game,” added Thompson.
While the team’s bigs are gaining plenty of psychological insight from Ray, they are seeing the fruits of their labor on-court, too. Since Ray was added to the Kings staff on March 7, DeMarcus Cousins has raised his scoring average from 16.4 points per game to 20.3 and Thompson has boosted his points and rebounds per game from 7.9 to 10.2 and 6.0 to 8.5, respectively.
Whiteside has also seen more floor time and assumed greater responsibility at center. Before Ray came aboard, No. 33 played in only four of 38 games for a total of 21 minutes. In the 21 games that have followed, the North Carolina native has earned time in 14 contests, averaging 6.2 minutes per outing. The growth of the Marshall University product was highlighted with a 10-rebound performance against the Houston Rockets on April 8 – the first time in his career he reached double-digit boards.
“A lot of work I do with (Coach Ray) is one-on-one, just really reacting and different post moves and different drills – stuff to really strengthen my lower body,” says Whiteside. “(He) has really been stressing to me about playing low and keeping my body centered and just keeping my arms out on offense and defense.”
Bolstered by their respect for one another, Whiteside has found Ray to be instrumental in his continued growth.
“He’s a really nice guy who really tells you how it is,” says the 7-foot center. “I really have a close relationship with him.”
With a kind demeanor and trademark style, Ray has quickly gained the admiration and attention of the team.
“He’s got that gray beard going and he’s kind of that super father figure,” says a smiling Smart.
While the beloved big man leads with patience and positivity, he ultimately preaches a dedication to the sport.
“What you want players to really learn how to do in this game is just go out and play hard,” says Ray. “Just play hard all the time.
“When you play hard all the time, something good is going to happen.”