Jaron Blossomgame seemingly had every reason to leave Clemson for the NBA after his junior season.
He had just finished a season in which he averaged 18.7 points per game, the best mark by a Clemson player since 2000-01. He was named a first-team All-ACC player by both the media and coaches. He performed well during workouts with seven NBA teams as well as the NBA Draft combine, and was projected by many pundits to be a first-round draft pick. Plus, on top of it all, he finished his degree.
So, when a press conference was scheduled on May 25 for Blossomgame to announce whether he would remain at Clemson for his senior season or forego it for the NBA Draft, the odds appeared against Clemson.
Nevertheless, Blossomgame chose to return.
“Him coming back is another example to guys of how much he’s enjoyed his Clemson experience,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said on Wednesday during his annual media golf outing at The Reserve at Lake Keowee. “What I sometimes don’t think gets mentioned enough is Jaron graduated this summer, and so it’s even more unique that a guy who’s finished his college degree and had the kind of season that he did decided to come back.”
Blossomgame proved he was one of the ACC’s best players in 2015. His 18.7 scoring average ranked third in the conference, and he scored 373 of his 580 total points in conference play, the third-best total in program history. Blossomgame also posted the sixth-best shooting percentage among all ACC players with a clip of 51.3 percent.
Heading into the season, Brownell believes the ACC is as deep as it has ever been in terms of talent level, and that most teams in the league think they are destined for the NCAA Tournament.
Clemson is one of the teams with those expectations, and Brownell said that Blossomgame coming back has given the Tigers confidence they can achieve their goals.
“I don’t think a lot of our guys needed a lot of extra inspiration, but I do think it’s given our guys confidence,” Brownell said of Blossomgame’s return. “It’s given our guys an added piece that we know we have a guy that has played as well as anybody in this league. Hopefully that motivates you to continue to work.”
The players around Blossomgame understand the sacrifice he made, and it’s one of the motivational factors driving their work ethic.
“I think it inspires them tremendously to work harder,” Clemson assistant coach Steve Smith said, “because they can see firsthand that you can reap the benefits of a guy like Jaron.”
A player of Blossomgame’s caliber will have that type of effect on a team.
Blossomgame, who scored at least 20 points in 16 games last season, is what Brownell calls Clemson’s “alpha male.”
“I think it’s important in this league and it’s a real challenge to have guys that command respect,” Brownell said, “and a little bit of an alpha male figure that leads your team through some adversity, that gives other guys confidence.”
The respect and attention Blossomgame’s presence dictates opens things up for everybody else on the floor.
“Jaron just brings a focal point to our program,” assistant Mike Winiecki said. “When people focus on him, we have other guys who can cash in open shots.”
Blossomgame became the first player in Clemson history to shoot at least 50 percent overall, 40 percent from 3-point range and 75 percent from the free throw line over the course of the season.
Had he left for the NBA, no one could have blamed him.
But more important than the money to Blossomgame is the unfinished business he hopes to help the Tigers take care of in 2016.
“He’s not coming back to finish his degree,” Brownell said. “He thoroughly enjoyed his Clemson experience, loves being here, I think really wanted to play in the new Littlejohn and certainly wants to take a team to the NCAA Tournament.”