During a Clemson basketball season in which “close” has been painfully insufficient, coach Brad Brownell appreciates the vision and body language of new athletics director Dan Radakovich.
After a particularly gut-wrenching loss to N.C. State at home, Radakovich met him coming off the court and hustled the coach into an equipment closet for a pep talk.
Radakovich wants Brownell to succeed, and he intends to give him the tools as well as the emotional support. That includes potentially scrapping a two-year old plan for a second practice floor and weighing the advantages of constructing a new basketball complex.
“It’s no secret that Clemson needs to make more of a commitment to basketball. Everybody around here understands that,” Brownell said. “Dan is somebody that has done it, and is an aggressive forward thinker, wants to make positive change happen and doesn’t want to just talk about it.
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“You appreciate that.”
Radakovich, whose farewell at Georgia Tech included the christening of a $45 million makeover of the basketball facility, recently told the Clemson Board of Trustees he would examine the options including replacing 10,000-seat Littlejohn Coliseum with perhaps a more intimate venue.
“You have to step back and say, is it a practice facility you need or a performance area that you need,” Radakovich said, describing his vision in broad terms. “What really needs to be upgraded there? And how do you balance the two of those together?”
Board chair David Wilkins described Radakovich’s approach as “prudent and smart.”
“Looking at both options shouldn’t indicate to anybody that it’s a foregone conclusion that a new facility is going to be built,” Wilkins said. “There’s no question that we need first-class facilities for our student-athletes and for our fans.
“You need to be looking ahead to see what you need to improve to attract top-quality athletes.”
Membership in the ACC necessitates Clemson pay attention to basketball, but football casts a long shadow. Florida and Ohio State are among the big-name programs to prosper in both sports, but Clemson has been unable to achieve a similar balance despite an avid, generous fan base.
“Right or wrong, Clemson is perceived to be a football school,” Brownell said. “I’m as big a football fan as the next guy, but there are other places that have done a better job of promoting both, and I don’t think we’ve done that as well here at times, where people are led to believe that it’s not as important.
“I don’t think that’s the case, but you have to show some things to people to prove that it’s not just talk that we want basketball to be important and here’s what we’re doing for that. Watch.”
After more than 100 seasons, Clemson teams had lost more games than it won. It is the only charter member of the ACC not to have won a conference championship and did not play in a postseason tournament until 1975, only then under a cloud.
There were stretches, although the 11 NCAA tournament appearances came after the field expanded in 1980, and Brownell was the first to win a tournament game. Five of the past six coaches had winning records including Cliff Ellis, who had the longest run (1984-94), and Rick Barnes, whose teams set attendance records (1995-98) with three straight NCAA appearances.
“If you’re always being reactionary, if you’re just catching up, if you’re just doing what you have to do to catch somebody that’s not being proactive. It looks like you’re doing it because you have to not because you want to,” Brownell said. “I think that’s where we have to do a better job at Clemson.
“Dan certainly has that mindset, I certainly have that mindset and I think more and more people are starting to understand that, and it’s exciting. That’s one of the reasons why I am here.”
Radakovich is behind Brownell, whom he admires for marshalling a team with two seniors and no juniors through a 13-14 season heading into Saturday night’s game against Virginia Tech.
“I am very confident in our leadership,” he said recently. “Sometimes you’ve just got to stick with someone that has the same values, understands the institution, embraces all of those things and works incredibly hard.”
Radakovich intends to report the preliminaries to the board this month. Downsizing the general seating area seems practical given history. Based on figures pulled from the NCAA’s archives, attendance at Littlejohn has been historically modest, averaging fewer than 8,000 per game nine seasons since 1986 and 9,000 or more in five including a record 11,107 when Barnes’ 1998 team reached the Sweet 16.
“Coming in you have to ask the question. Is that what needs to be done. If it is, how do you do that?” Radakovich said
“I think that by the middle of March, we’ll have a little bit better idea on Littlejohn as to what happens there.”