Clemson head coach Brad Brownell held court at the ACC Operation Basketball on Wednesday in Charlotte. Here is a transcript of his press conference.
Super excited about 2016-17. We have a lot of really positive momentum in our program. For those of you that don’t know, we’ve renovated Littlejohn Coliseum, and we’ll be back in there this year after a one-year hiatus in Greenville, and while Greenville was good to us, it’s certainly good to be back in Littlejohn, and we’ve got a terrific practice facility, the Swann Pavilion, with player lounges and video rooms and just all the things you need to really be successful at this level. Super excited about that. Got a great piece of news last spring with the return of Jaron Blossomgame, an All-ACC forward who decided to come back to Clemson for his fifth season, something I think is really special. Jaron is already a graduate of Clemson, and so I think it speaks a lot to his character and to the fact that he’s going to pursue a master’s degree this year. It really speaks to his level of Clemson and the time that he spent there, how much he’s enjoyed it. Feels like he has a little bit of unfinished business as a player. Certainly would like to duplicate last season in terms of being All-ACC and then also wants to lead his team to the tournament.
Q. Just what you can say about obviously Jaron coming back, a big piece, but not getting to the postseason recently, just what you can say about what the disconnect was, and if you feel like you have those pieces this year to do so, including with Jaron coming back?
BRAD BROWNELL: Well, I think we have an opportunity, certainly. This is my seventh year at Clemson, and I would say it’s the deepest ACC I’ve seen. I think if you ask probably 13 coaches right now, they all — 13 out of the 15 think they have enough talent, experience to make an NCAA Tournament. Hopefully come March, we’ll have 10 or more in the tournament. I think we have very good backcourt depth. We probably have five guys that have good experience. We have a couple of transfers in Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed that played as freshmen at Vanderbilt and Robert Morris that can help us to go along with Avry Holmes and Donte Grantham and Gabe DeVoe.
So I feel like that’s a real strength. Combine that with Jaron, I think we have good talent 1 through 4. We’re a little thin inside at the five. Sidy Djitte is a guy that I’m really proud of because he’s a fourth-year senior who has not started yet. He’s just waited his turn. That’s rare in this day and age of college basketball, that guys don’t transfer. But he’s a hardworking, tough-minded, physical rebounder, can bring some toughness to our team. We need a little more depth back there to kind of get over the hump, and we’ve got to find some of that in Legend Robertin, who’s an unproven backup center who will play a lot early. And then we have a young man, Elijah Thomas, who’s a talented guy who’s sitting out until late Christmas because he was a transfer. Feel like we’re still going to be rounding our team into shape come early ACC play with the addition of Eli later, but at the same time really feel good about our perimeter play.
Q. The Big Ten is experimenting with expanded replay review within the restricted area of the arc. Would you like to see an expansion of replay review either in that area or anything beyond the final two minutes?
BRAD BROWNELL: You know, right now I would not. Let’s see how it goes in the Big Ten. We’ve got enough replay. I’m glad that we have replay in the last two minutes on a lot of issues, because late in games we’ve got to make sure we get them right. But I think if we’re not careful, we’re going to be going back to the clock and monitor all the time and really disrupt a major part of the flow of the game, and I think you’re seeing it a little bit in football right now with college football games lasting four, four and a half hours. I think we’ve got to be careful of that.
Q. Can you talk about the two transfer guards and what you saw from them last year as they sat out and what your expectations are?
BRAD BROWNELL: Well, last year they were part of the scout team, and it’s always different when you’re playing and practicing purple rather than orange. Coach Odom is over here. He can attest to that. When you’re on the scout team and it turn it over, it’s not that big a deal. When you turn to over and it’s live basketball and you turn it over, the head coach isn’t too happy. So there’s an adjustment. Both those guys are talented players. Shelton Mitchell is a point guard with very good size, 6’3″, good passer, good vision, good speed. Guy who’s worked really hard over the last year and a half to improve his outside shooting. I think that is getting better by the day. And then Marcquise Reed is a very good complement to him. He’s a guy that’s kind of got an old-school game. He’s just a scorer. He can make threes, but he really would just as soon drive the ball into the paint. He can make runners, floaters. He’s got an uncanny knack to make tough two-point shots. And while oftentimes in college basketball these days the analysts don’t want you taking two-point shots, he has the kind of talent that you’ve got to let him go. And so I really like those two guys because their games are different. They complement each other well, and both are proven players after their freshman year.
Q. You’re in your 15th year as a head coach. Last year with all of the, quote-unquote, road games that you had, did last year prove to be a learning experience for you as you watched maybe a new bonding that occurred? Obviously there was a different dynamic of a team compared to the previous 13 years.
BRAD BROWNELL: Yeah. When you’re displaced like we were for 20 months, everything is turned upside down. It was challenging as a coach. You’re constantly trying to figure out — we’re juggling practice times with volleyball and women’s basketball, the Rally Cats, the cheerleaders. How do you keep your guys fresh? You’re traveling to Greenville on game day. How often do you go to Greenville to practice? Your guys are practicing at different times. Everything is out of whack. We let our guys know early on we weren’t going to make excuses; that it was the hand we’re dealt and we are going to play through it. And I’m really proud of the way our guys played last year. I think we were 13-4 at home. We knocked off three top 10 teams in the country. We had a great run there. It took us a little while to play as well as we would have wanted. If we would have played better in November and December, we might have had an NCAA Tournament berth. But we certainly played very good basketball during ACC time in Greenville, and super excited to see the city of Greenville get the NCAA Tournament, so it’s been — that’ll be good for South Carolina basketball.
Q. Jaron Blossomgame, I wanted to know if you could detail for us the things that he has metamorphosed his improvement year to year to year to the point he’s one of the best players in the country? BRAD BROWNELL: Well, number one, he’s always been a terrific athlete, and that’s what we saw when we recruited him. Ironically, he was probably the fourth or fifth best player on one of those AAU teams. And we got to know Jaron by getting him over to campus a couple of different times, and the reason I signed him is because I knew he was a terrific athlete, and getting to know him, I knew he was a hard worker. That never changed. In his senior year of high school in April, he had the Kevin Ware injury where he broke the bone in his leg, it came out. He actually had to go through two surgeries. He didn’t just one, he had two surgeries in his freshman year, but he was always pushing to get back, pushing to get back, pushing to get back. Super competitive guy, and you saw that early on. Now, his jump shot was very erratic. His ball handling and passing was probably average or below average as a freshman. Both of those things started to improve his sophomore year. You could just see that he was starting to get it.
But he’s really a self-made player. Like Jaron has to work at things. It doesn’t come easy as some things do for him. He’s a guy that’s played inside, outside. He’ll do whatever you ask him to do, really as a young player in our program, he was a big rebound-perminute guy and defender and physicality and toughness and hustle, and last year he kind of emerged into more of a skill player. He was a guy that could make shots from the perimeter, he’s a guy that could read and make some passes. He’s still working to master those skills where he can create more shots and more scoring opportunities for others, but he’s still extremely competitive, unbelievable work ethic, and a guy that plays the game with the kind of confidence that you need when you play against the kind of players that we play against in this league.