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Keeler: Nique Clifford leaving CU Buffs for CSU Rams turned into transfer that worked out for everybody. “Nique is a Buff for life. He’s also a Ram for life now.”

DAYTON, Ohio — Akai Clifford could’ve kept the receipts. He didn’t. He could’ve worn the scars as a badge of honor. He could’ve pointed fingers at every keyboard warrior on “X” who shot from the hip and drew blood.



This is good attrition and a guaranteed W when we play CSU

Clifford could point to the scoreboard and laugh. He won’t.

“I don’t have social media,” Akai, father of CSU guard and former CU Buff Nique Clifford, told me recently. Then he shrugged. “But I did hear that there were a lot of nasty messages sent out there.”

Yeah. A few.

“The thing is, you have the ability to take in that noise. Or the ability to leave it alone. And (Nique) did a good job of just saying, ‘Hey, I’m here to play, and I’ll just play.’ And it’s been (great). It’s worked out for him, I think. Trying to get into that kind of stuff, it just becomes really messy. And that’s not the kind of person he is.”

He’s dancing. So are the Buffs. So’s Dad. Nique’s new team, the Rammies, faced Virginia late Tuesday in a 10-seed-vs.-10-seed First Four NCAA Tournament tussle at UD Arena. His old team, the Buffs, will take on Boise State on Wednesday night with the same seed line and the same stakes.

Because the only sense of humor shared by the selection committee is a sick one, the Cliffords, Rams and Buffs are all together again, this time in southern Ohio. Celebrating a transfer that somehow worked out for everybody.

“It was extremely hard for him, I know, because he loved (the Buffs),” Akai said of his son, a 6-foot-6 wing out of Colorado Springs who flipped from Boulder to FoCo after his third season at CU.

“But I think he knew he needed a new environment. And the love that (CSU) showed him through the first recruitment process, I think, made it pretty easy for him to make that decision, to know that he was going to a place where he was going to be embraced the way that he wanted to be embraced. And wanted to be (embraced) by the fans as well as by the culture. So we’re thankful for that. Yeah. Just thankful.”

For Nique, the writing on the wall said to turn right at Lyons and left at Longmont. The short version? The young man’s minutes for this winter were earmarked for wunderkind and probable NBA lottery pick Cody Williams — a long, athletic, do-everything wing who projected to do the long, athletic, do-everything parts better than Clifford.

“It’s unusual,” Akai continued. “It was definitely interesting. But it’s been a blessing for him. He’s getting his confidence back and he’s just playing really well, with a really good team in CSU — a great team. CU was a great team. And I think this has been a great new environment.”

One in which his son’s thrived. After averaging 5.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as a junior at CU and 6.7 points and 4.6 boards as a sophomore, the younger Clifford headed into Tuesday night averaging roughly double those numbers in green and gold (12.2 points, 7.5 rebounds per tilt).

“I’m just happy for him as well. (I) reached out to him,” Buffs point guard KJ Simpson said earlier this week when asked about Clifford joining CU in Dayton. “They’ve had a great season over there at (CSU).”

In hindsight, when it comes to Clifford’s decision to transfer to CSU, give Rams hoops icon Isaiah Stevens an assist, too.

“Stevens was a part of Nique’s (initial) recruiting process (coming out of high school),” Akai explained. “And so it was very hard for me to kind of come (to CSU) the first time. But those two have a really, really good bond now. And it’s been pretty neat. And I think when (Nique) first came here (to shop for a new school), immediately, Isaiah reached out.”

CSU 88, CU 83. Nique scored 15. So much for guarantees.


Turnover machine

It’s like he’s cheating on CU

Akai Clifford could’ve burned the black and gold in his closet. He wouldn’t.

“Oh, no. Definitely, Nique is a Buff for life,” the elder Clifford said. “But he’s also a Ram for life now. So for us, we will have friends forever at CU. But we’re thankful and blessed that he’s been able to make so many new friends here at CSU as well — we’ve met so many great folks that have embraced him, as well as embraced us. So we’re just thankful to know that he’s at a place where he’s cared about (and a place) we love.”

Fast forward a few months, and we’ve threaded a needle so small that Rammies faithful are holding their noses as they cheer on Boise State. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Or something like that. Madness, indeed.

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