Jaron Blossomgame has confidence in Clemson’s talent. So much so that it’s ultimately why he came back.
The Clemson forward flirted with the NBA after a breakout junior season, working out for seven NBA teams and participating in the NBA Draft combine. He showed well, and was a considered by many to be a fringe first-round pick, which made for a tough choice whether to enter the Draft or return to Clemson for one last year.
At the end of the day, though, Blossomgame couldn’t be sure when he would be selected in the NBA Draft.
But he felt sure about the team he decided to come back and lead.
“With the uncertainty of the Draft, I felt like being able to come back and improve and play on a better team will do me a lot of good with the whole NBA thing,” Blossomgame said on Wednesday at the annual ACC Operation Basketball media day event in Charlotte.
Clemson returns three starters from last season and all but four players from the 2015 roster.
The trio of returning starters includes senior point guard Avry Holmes, who started all 31 games in his first season at Clemson after transferring from San Francisco and finished third on the team in scoring at 10 points per game and second in assists with 80.
Junior forward Donte Grantham is Clemson’s other returning starter. Grantham, who led the Tigers with 56 3-pointers, is expected to take a big step forward in his development after starting every game in his first two seasons.
“I tell everybody, this is the most talented team I’ve been on since I’ve been at Clemson,” Blossomgame said.
While the losses of center Landry Nnoko and guard Jordan Roper will be felt, the Tigers return most of their key pieces.
Senior center Sidy Djitte was Clemson’s most improved player a year ago and will start in place of Nnoko. The native of Senegal tallied career highs in points (5.3 per game), rebounds (5.2 per game), blocks (20), steals (19), field goal percentage (.620) and free throw percentage (.635).
Junior guard Gabe DeVoe increased his numbers across the board in 2015-16, as well, and is also due for an increased role.
In addition, three talented transfers enter the fold this season after sitting out last year per NCAA rules — redshirt sophomore guard Shelton Mitchell, redshirt sophomore guard Marcquise Reed and redshirt freshman forward Elijah Thomas.
Mitchell recorded over 100 assists in his first season at Vanderbilt, Reed recorded over 500 points in his first season at Robert Morris and Thomas was a consensus top-50 prospect in the 2015 class entering his first season at Texas A&M.
Mitchell and Reed are eligible to play immediately, while Thomas has to sit out games occurring during the fall 2016 semester as a mid-year transfer.
“Shelton Mitchell is an elite point guard. He’s a speed point guard who wants to push the flow of the game,” Blossomgame said. “He always makes the right pass. And Marcquise Reed, former Rookie of the Year in the NEC. He can score the ball and make tough shots, and that’s something we need. Elijah Thomas, the big guy from Texas A&M, he’s very talented. He can score with both hands in the post. He can defend and rebound.
“I’m very excited about what these guys bring to the team.”
Blossomgame didn’t just return because he believed it would be best for his future as a pro — he returned because he believes in the team around him.
With Blossomgame back, the Tigers are poised to make a run at the NCAA Tournament for the first time since head coach Brad Brownell’s first season at Clemson in 2011.
Clemson began working toward that goal when practice began on Oct. 1, and Blossomgame thinks the team is already starting to come together.
“I think we gel really well right now,” Blossomgame said. “Even last year, being able to have to play away from campus, we built toughness. We’re a really gritty team. I like what we have this year. We have some really talented pieces, and transfers being eligible is definitely going to make a difference for us.
“I’m excited about what we have moving forward.”