Years ago, Dan Fife established himself as one of the state’s best basketball coaches. But a defensive guru?
Truth be told, Clarkston always has played good defense, but that part of its game is overshadowed because the Wolves always have at least a couple of guys who consistently can knock down perimeter shots, and they play an up-tempo style.
Since Clarkston often scores in the 60s or 70s, some get the notion that Fife is more of an offensive coach — as opposed to a coach whose team makes 10 or 12 passes on a possession and scores in the 40s or 50s.
The state got a good example of the type of defense Fife teaches Tuesday when Clarkston hammered Flint Carman-Ainsworth, 63-9.
That was not a typo. Carman-Ainsworth scored nine points in 32 minutes.
Fife was dumbfounded.
“We’ve never done that before,” Fife said. “We had 18 steals in that game. That’s incredible. We were subbing in the first half, and then we started the third quarter, and it was just as bad.”
Holding an opponent to a single digit almost never happens in boys basketball, and this one was even more confounding because Carman-Ainsworth was a Class A regional finalist last season.
“Carman has always been one of our big games,” Fife said. “They beat us the last two years pretty easy — and easy being 15-16 points.”
Fife genuinely felt bad about the lopsided victory and certainly didn’t try to run up the score, substituting liberally. But there are several players on Clarkston’s bench who could start on a lot of other teams in the state.
“We’re deep, so when we sub we don’t lose a lot, and those kids play with the same sense of urgency,” Fife said. “When we’re beating people like that, I can’t stand it. I want to win, but I don’t want to embarrass them. But all of the kids have got to play.”
Allowing nine points certainly was a fluke, but Clarkston showed its defensive prowess again Thursday when it rocked Rochester, 77-25, for its eighth straight win.
Most teams score more than 25 points in a half, but this Clarkston team might be special on defense, a foundation of the program.
“I know kids play better defense when they score,” Fife said, laughing. “Honestly, in my heart, I think the way you play defense defines you. It’s the character of who you are.”
Despite the past two games, Fife is not ready to proclaim this his best defensive team. We will know how good the Wolves are defensively once they get into the meat of their competitive OAA Red schedule and face North Farmington, Oak Park and Southfield.
Fife has been around long enough to know that on some nights the Wolves’ jumpers are not going to fall, but that doesn’t have to mean a loss is imminent. That’s why he devotes so much of his time to defense.
“To me,” he said, “defense is your mind and your heart — who you are.”
Over the years, the Clarkston basketball players have proven to be a bunch of tough-minded guys who play with no fear, no matter the opposition.
Clarkston does not produce a lot of guys who play Division I basketball, but the Wolves have played against a lot of teams featuring eventual Division I players and have won a large majority of those games.
“I read a quote the other day about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and I think that kind of defines us,” Fife said. “I’ve always had good talent, but more importantly, we’ve had good kids that buy in and play hard and compete hard.”