CLEMSON - When Milton Jennings heard he might have a new roommate last summer, he drew a blank at the name.
He went online and instantly recognized Noel Johnson. Jennings' AAU team had been pummeled a couple of times by a squad that included Johnson but was headlined by Georgia Tech newcomer Derrick Favors, ranked by some as the nation's top freshman.
"When we had four people on (Favors), Noel was out there wide open knocking down 3s," Johnson said. "I was happy to get another guy on my side that will help us stretch the defense out."
Not to mention raise the ceiling for how good coach Oliver Purnell believes his banner recruiting class can elevate Clemson's program.
The Tigers' four-player class was ranked No. 11 in the country by Scout.com and includes three members pegged as top-60 prospects by numerous services.
The lynchpin is Jennings, a 6-foot-9 swingman from Summerville who was a consensus top-25 recruit. Johnson, a 6-6 natural wing scorer from Fayetteville, Ga., rated No. 30 by ESPN, fell in Clemson's lap after he asked to be released from his letter of intent at Southern California because of an NCAA investigation.
The third member, 6-8 center Devin Booker of Whitmire (No. 65, Scout.com), arrived on campus more physically advanced than his older brother, preseason All-ACC senior Trevor Booker, at a similar age. And 6-4 wing Donte Hill of Virginia Beach, Va., has spawned comparisons to former Clemson guard Cliff Hammonds for his defensive range and tenacity.
The comparison to Hammonds brings recruiting classes full circle. Purnell's initial class of Hammonds, James Mays and Sam Perry was regarded as the foundation for Clemson's back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances
And as the Tigers attempt to get over the NCAA first-round hump, Purnell contends his latest crop of newcomers possesses the refined tools to take them to a higher level.
"Potentially, they're better, just in terms of the offensive skill they've brought in," Purnell said. "They're more highly ranked as prospects. Now, that other group worked its tails off and we developed some outstanding leaders from it. This group, without question, has the chance to be much better if they'll work.
"One of the things they've done really well is come in and work hard and not get caught up in the hype. They've played the appropriate role of seen a lot and heard a little. So I think they've been good for our chemistry, and sometimes that's hard."
Sophomore guard Tanner Smith said Clemson's returning cast quickly warmed to the freshmen because they did not display any sense of entitlement.
That, and given the Tigers' frenetic pace, all four will be counted on as members of Purnell's desired 10-player rotation.
"It's definitely something that's going to be fun to watch this whole year," Johnson said.
Incorporating their potential while maintaining chemistry figures to present Purnell with a juggling act as the season unfolds.
On the one hand, Purnell said he hopes to avoid putting any more than three on the floor at once to minimize the inexperience factor. All four came off the bench for Clemson's opening 84-41 victory against Presbyterian on Friday.
Yet there seems little question that for the Tigers to reach their peak, several will have to develop into becoming go-to options on the floor at game's end.
Johnson offered a tease by draining his first three 3-pointers Friday, and Jennings believes the freshmen will ease into the mix, especially as they learn their places in Purnell's various defensive presses.
"It's like sinking or swimming," Jennings said. "It's hard to do at first, but you accept your position and play together, it becomes pretty easy."