Cairo's Hammonds excels in class and court

CAIRO — Cairo High basketball star Clifford Hammonds is a bit of a throwback. He doesn't drive a Hummer. He's never been on ESPN or been talked about on "The Sports Reporters" or "Pardon The Interruption."

In fact, it may be hard to believe but he actually isn't a big fan of video sports games. He stinks at them.

"Yeah, everybody on the team wants to play me before games," Hammonds laughs. "I'm no good."

What he is good at is just about everything else. He's a 4.0 student in the classroom. He's also a 4.0 performer on the football field or the basketball floor, where he is currently averaging around 16 points a game for Isiah Chance's Syrupmakers.

It's no coincidence that led by Hammonds, Cairo is contending for a Region 1-AAAA title with a 6-1 region mark, 15-5 overall heading into the final weeks of the season.

After a disastrous football season, Hammonds is delighted with the turnaround.

"We've got a lot of leadership from our seniors," he said. "Micalvin (Hammonds), Quan (Brinson), Montez (McIntyre) and Ahmad (Ellison.) They stepped their game up when I was injured."

A lingering turf toe and knee injury slowed Hammonds' return to the Cairo lineup. But it didn't slow Cairo, which, he said, was the plan all along.

"This summer, we practiced hard, we did our individual workouts because we have one goal in mind and that's to win region. We'll take it from there.

"This is the (seniors') last season, and we want them to go out right. I thought last year was going to be our year, but maybe this year will be."

A year ago, Cairo bowed out in the first round of the playoffs, falling to Westlake in overtime. The Syrupmakers would like to stick around a lot longer this year.

Hammonds, of course, will have a lot to do with that. A superb defender with great quickness and a good outside shot, he's a quiet leader on the floor.

"I think what impresses me most about Cliff is how humble he is," Cairo basketball coach Isiah Chance said. "He's, you know, the first one on the floor, the last one off it. He wants everybody else to do well."

He doesn't mind getting on his older brother Micalvin from time to time, either.

"He can't take me," he said, laughing. "He's got to work on his jump shot a little bit. If you watch the games, you'll see that from time to time, we'll be arguing on the floor. He'll think I'm wrong about something and I'll think he's wrong about something and we'll get into it.

"Then, when we get back into practice we apologize and go from there." Having a team that gets along is important. Hammonds learned that in Cairo's rugged football season.

"Our leadership wasn't there," he said. "We'd have one good game and then the next game, we weren't even there mentally. In practices, we weren't even going as hard as we should have. Coaches were trying to get us to go hard but we wouldn't do it. You're going to be failures if you're going to do it like that."

Failure isn't a word that Hammonds has in his vocabulary. An excellent student who's been that way for a long time ("I think I slacked off on sixth grade.") he's someone who takes his schoolwork very seriously. Unlike 90 percent of America's high school athletes.

"My parents always taught me to do well in school and try my hardest," he said. "I do all my homework, even if it takes me to 12 o'clock."

Being the youngest of three boys in the Hammonds family wasn't easy.

"I think they were harder on me than on my brothers and sisters," he said.

"Micalvin will come home with a ‘B' they won't say anything. But if I come home with a ‘B' right now, because I got a 4.0, they'll say something to me."

But he's all for competition. He learned that from his brothers at an early age, too.

"When I was real small, they had bikes and I didn't have a bike," he said.

"So they'd ride their bikes and I'd run behind them, chasing them." It wasn't long before he was catching them. In basketball, too.

"Micalvin always tells everyone thatback in seventh grade, he was better than me," Hammonds said. "I remember back in California, he was the star on his team and I was the star player on my team, it was a younger team. And one day, we played and he put 25 on me. And he was like, ‘Cliff's sorry...'"

Then Hammonds started to grow.

"I probably started beating him in one-on-one every time about in eighth grade. I remember once I was beating him so bad, he had to stop and call time out and think about what he is going to do next."

Hammonds said that this has been quite a season in Cairo with the football team struggling.

"I wanted to finish playing for Coach (Warren) Field because he was here since I started. I was like his son his first year of coaching. But it was good to see Coach Fallaw get it because I grew up under his offense. And now he'll see what he can do as a head coach. I think he'll do a good job."

As for college, Hammonds isn't sure what lies ahead.

"I haven't heard from the one school I want to go to. I haven't heard anything from North Carolina," he said. " I was born in Fort Bragg in North Carolina. I've mostly heard from SEC and ACC schools like Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida, Florida State, N.C. State.

"I would like to play both in school. I'd rather play basketball than football because I think I have a better chance."

"It's very rare that you get the kid that's the total package," Cairo coach Chance said. "Not only does he have athletic ability, he's got a work ethic. The day of a test, that affects the way he plays. He wants to know what his grade is.

"You don't get those every day."

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