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Is this the year Clemson basketball finally gets over the hump?

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — The last couple of months have been a roller coaster ride for Clemson basketball coach Brad Brownell.

Since the Tigers wrapped up the 2016-’17 season with a disappointing loss to Oakland in the first-round of the NIT, Brownell had to sit down with Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich and explain what he was going to do to get the program back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years, while at the same time convincing Radakovich to bring him back to Clemson for an eighth season.

Once he learned he was returning for another year, Brownell had to make the tough decision of letting go of longtime associate head coach and friend, Mike Winiecki. Since then he has hit the road recruiting, where he landed one of the top graduate transfers in the country in Mark Donnal of Michigan, while also joining head football coach Dabo Swinney on IPTAY’s Prowl & Growl circuit.

In between all of that, he has been coaching his players as he tries to get the Tigers ready for a season with so much riding on it.

“I really like our team,” Brownell said after the third day of ACC Spring Meetings on Wednesday from the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Fla. “We have some experienced guys.”

Those experienced guys are center Elijah Thomas, Donnal, forward Donte Grantham and guards Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe. With the way Mitchell and Reed ended the season in terms of point production and just their overall play, Brownell is excited to return three guards who played at a very high level in the ACC and had a lot of success.

“I think having experienced guards is significant,” he said. “Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe, that’s three guys that are juniors and seniors. They played a good bit for us. That is a key to being successful in this league.

“It is hard to win with young guards consistently. I think that proves itself out more times than not, unless you have a guy that is a one-and-done pro and is just so talented. That is one thing that I feel really good about.”

And though he has tested the waters of the NBA Draft and does not have to make his final decision until next week, Brownell feels good about Grantham returning for his senior year and about what he can do next year as he steps out of the shadow of Jaron Blossomgame.

Grantham is a unique player for a guy who is 6-foot-8, 215 pounds. Not only can he play the wing and can be a productive scorer, but he can also handle the basketball and will probably be the Tigers’ backup point guard in certain situations next year. He is one of the more versatile and athletic players in the ACC.

“I think Donte Grantham will have a really good year this year,” Brownell said. “I think he will come out from a little bit of the shadow from Jaron and maybe get some more opportunities and take advantage of those opportunities.”

Brownell also likes the fact center Elijah Thomas is taking the necessary steps to become a big-time player in the ACC. He said the 6-foot-9, 230-pound center had a very good spring and is putting in the work and the commitment to get better.

“I think Elijah is a talented guy who is becoming more coachable every day and working harder every day,” Brownell said. “He is kind of understanding, after spending two years in college, he probably has not achieved at the level he wants to and that more work in going to be involved.”

Brownell hopes getting a player like Donnal (6-9, 240), with the kind of experience he brings from Michigan, will push Thomas even more. He played in all 38 games for the Big Ten Champions this past year and 101 overall in his career in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“I think he was a key acquisition for us,” Brownell said. “I thought we really needed another big guy inside that could supplement Elijah. Having a guy with him, Mark is essential at this level because of the quality of players we play against in terms of size. So Mark is a different kind of guy. He can step out and make threes, which is a unique characteristic for a five-man, which is a good thing for us.”

David Skara (6-8, 215) is another transfer Brownell is excited about. Skara sat out last season due to transfer rules, but he played in 63 games at Valparaiso University in his first two years in college. He is a guy, Brownell says, no one knows much about.

“He is kind of a glue guy at 6-foot-8, 215 pounds that can guard a bunch of different people,” the Clemson coach said. “He just kind of knows how to play. He is a real easy guy to play with. Maybe a defensive minded guy that we probably needed last year to be honest with you. He is more of a guy we can really put on guys that are big-time scorers and can cause some problems. He did a good job guarding Jaron in practice last year.”

The Tigers will also add highly thought of freshmen in forward Aamir Simms, guard Anthony Oliver II, forward Malik William and guard Clyde Trapp.

“I think our freshman pieces will be good, but when you look at our team, the older guys I mentioned, it is really on those guys,” Brownell said. “I think they will be hungry. I like the way we have worked out this spring. I think we have pretty good depth.”

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