CLEMSON — Clemson coach Brad Brownell knew when he took the Tigers job three years ago that lean times were coming for the men’s basketball team and he’s confident he’s on track to bring the program back to its winning ways.
Brownell said he cautioned former Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips the team he took over three years ago was stacked with upperclassmen and his third and fourth seasons as coach could be struggles.
“I said, ‘We’ve got some holes here, some lack of recruiting classes and some youth that’s going to get to us,’ ” said Brownell, entering his fourth season at Clemson. “That lack of experience is going to be problematic.”
Brownell apparently knew what he was talking about.
Behind seniors Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, Brownell’s first team won 22 games and the school’s first NCAA tournament game in 14 years. A season later, with senior guards Tanner Smith and Andre Young, the Tigers used a strong second half to finish 16-15. However, with two seniors and 12 sophomores and freshmen, Clemson struggled down the stretch last year to lose 10 of its final 11 games and end 13-18—– the team’s first losing season in nine years and the first under .500-campaign in Brownell’s head coaching career.
And it happened with a new AD watching in Dan Radakovich. But Brownell has talked extensively with Radakovich and believes the administration understands the circumstances and sees hope down the road as Clemson’s players gain some age and playing time.
Brownell said things could be difficult again this season with two of last year’s top three scorers gone in forwards Devin Booker and Milton Jennings.
Brownell is adding four first-year players to a group that doesn’t have a senior on the roster. K.J. McDaniels, an explosive high-flyer, took the largest strides of the young group as he averaged 10.9 points per game to finish second between Booker and Jennings. McDaniels was invited to this weekend’s select Kevin Durant Skills Academy held in Washington, D.C.
McDaniels has the chance to be an all-Atlantic Coast Conference player and make up for much of the scoring of last year’s seniors, Brownell said, if he’ll think more about involving teammates instead of playing for his shot and points.
Brownell has an opposite problem with the team’s likely starter at the point, Rod Hall, who looks to pass first and worry about his points later on. Brownell and the coaches have continually spoken to Hall about upping his aggressiveness in crucial situations.
Brownell also expects guards Jordan Roper and Adonis Filer to push for playing time in the backcourt after so-so freshman seasons. The middle will likely be taken up by largely by 6-foot-10 Landry Nnoko, a freshman last year who didn’t get as many minutes as Brownell would’ve liked because he needed to keep Booker and Jennings on the court as long as possible.
Things won’t get easier in the ACC with the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame this year and Louisville the year after that. “Hey, it’s going to be a challenge,” the coach said.
Brownell and the Tigers get a jump start on the season with a visit to Italy in August, where they’ll play four games against Italian club teams. Nearly as important as the games are the 10 days of practice Clemson will have to build bonds Brownell expects will carry into the season.
“I know there’s going to be some bumps in the road,” he said. “But I’m very optimistic.”