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PATOKA – Johnnie Clift is fearless.
Standing at just 5-foot-10, Clift has never been afraid to drive through the lane during his four seasons as a starter with the Warriors, and because of that, he was rewarded with his 1,000th career point last Wednesday during a win against South Central.
“He is a heads-up player and takes advantage of what is given him,” said South Central coach Rick Simmons. “He doesn’t go out of his way to try to get his points.
“In the process of playing, he finds a way to score.”
Clift, who wears 00 on his back and needed just nine points to reach the milestone, scored several quick buckets in the first quarter, and reached the plateau with 3:54 left in the first half, scoring on none other than a dribble-drive layup through the Cougar defense.
Warriors coach Joey Eddy said that type of play is part of what has made Clift the standout player he is today.
“He doesn’t play (like he is) 5-10, that’s for darn sure,” Eddy said. “He doesn’t shy away from contact, and he has a knack for getting up and under people.”
Clift – who is as unselfish as they come, despite his scoring average of nearly 20 points per game – only scored 12 points in the 67-42 win against the Cougars, but in addition, he posted a team-high six rebounds and five steals, and assisted on a pair of baskets.
And it’s in those extras where Clift holds the most pride.
“I’m proud of (1,000 points), but I just hope I can continue to be a good teammate,” he said.
Anyone familiar with Patoka basketball wouldn’t be surprised at Clift’s sentiments.
He’s been a regular distributor over the past four seasons, making his teammates better to lead the Warriors to several big victories, though he said he hopes the biggest wins come in his senior season – specifically a regional championship and an Egyptian-Illini Conference title.
“He has worked hard from day one, and if you could pick a kid to score 1,000 points, he’s the kid, because he is a perfect teammate,” Eddy said.“He started out as a point guard who never looked to score, but his role has gotten bigger and bigger, and he has always adapted."
Now, Eddy said, Clift demands the ball in the biggest situations, wanting to take the game-winning shot when the situation arises.
That attitude comes a year after he led the Warriors in most offensive categories, including scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and free throws. All the while, he defends the best playing on the opposing team, whether that player is a small guard or an inside post player.
His future, however, may see him playing a different sport.
Clift’s preferred sport is baseball, and Eddy believes that Clift is a strong enough third baseman that he could step onto many college fields now and be an adequate defender.
He’s been scouted by several schools – including a handful that offered him a spot as a pitcher – and Clift will soon be narrowing down his choices.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids like him go and play basketball, and unless you find the right spot, it can be frustrating,” Eddy said.
“There’s a lot of places where you can step in and play baseball, because size doesn’t matter.”
Clift earned Most Valuable Player honors in the Egyptian-Illini Conference this past fall, and will look to help guide the Warriors to a deep postseason run this spring.