On Tuesday, Steve Clifford spoke to Len McPhee, his basketball coach at the University of Maine at Farmington. Even as he accepted the head coaching job with the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, Clifford’s roots weren’t far from his mind.

“Coach McPhee was a great influence on me. It was great to talk with him,” Clifford said.

Clifford, who was born in Lincoln and grew up in Vermont before attending Farmington, was introduced by the Bobcats as their new head coach Wednesday.

“It’s an opportunity to coach in the NBA. There’s only 30 of these jobs and it’s the ultimate challenge for a coach,” Clifford said.

Last season, Clifford was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers. Prior to that he spent five seasons as an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic and four seasons with the Houston Rockets. Clifford jumped from the college game to the NBA in the 2000-01 season, serving as advance scout for the New York Knicks.

Those who have known Clifford since his days as a defensive standout at Farmington said they’re not surprised by his success.

“Since the day I met Cliff, he has been focused on coaching basketball. He’s also one of the nicest people I’ve had the good fortune to know,” said Phil St. Onge, a Winslow native and Clifford’s college roommate. “Even after all he’s accomplished personally in the game, neither of those things has changed.”

Dick Whitmore, the former Colby College men’s basketball coach, got to know Clifford when Clifford worked as a counselor at the Pine Tree Basketball Camp. The traits Whitmore saw then were still evident a few years ago, when he attended an Orlando practice and watched Clifford teaching his pro players.

“(Clifford) was always willing to learn to get better. He had a knack to teach the fundamentals to young people,” Whitmore said. “He actually coached my kids when they were small. That’s how far back Steve and I go.”

Clifford is Charlotte’s third head coach in three years, and he inherits a team that struggled. The Bobcats went 21-61 this season, and only Orlando finished lower in the Eastern Conference.

“I don’t think it’s anything you can do overnight. I have to prove (to the players) I know what it takes for them to play well as individuals, and I need to prove I know what it takes to win in this league,” said Clifford, whose first coaching job was at Woodland High.

Clifford said he thinks his team has some talent to build around, including guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson, and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

“I’ll be reaching out and establishing that trust,” Clifford said. “Watching tape, the thing that stood out is there’s some really good competitors.”

Clifford said another selling point for the job was he feels he can work well with management, specifically Rod Higgins, the president of basketball operations, and General Manager Rich Cho.

“In this league, that’s critical,” Clifford said.