When losing a player like Donte Grantham, a team loses more than just his skills on the basketball court. Because of his personality and the positive energy he brought to the locker room, Clemson’s senior was the unquestionable leader of the Clemson basketball team.
His leadership played a big role in why the Tigers got off to a 16-3 start to the season and a 5-2 start in the ACC. But there are many challenges for every team during a long and grueling basketball season, and one of the 11th-ranked Tigers’ biggest challenges came on Jan. 20 against Notre Dame when they lost Grantham for the season to a torn ACL in his right knee.
Many wondered if Grantham’s injury spelled doom for what had been a great start to the 2017-’18 season. The question was not just who was going to replace Grantham’s 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, but who was going to lead the team as well.
Clemson (20-4, 9-3 ACC) found a way to survive Grantham’s injury and finish off their win over Notre Dame, but the following game at Virginia did not go so well. It was arguably the Tigers’ worse game of the season, losing by 25 points to the top-ranked Cavaliers.
But in their next game something happened no one was expecting … the Tigers fought back. Clemson rallied from 12 points down at Georgia Tech to beat the Yellow Jackets on a last-second Marcquise Reed layup, while Gabe DeVoe added a career-high 25 points.
The two continued to produce at home against North Carolina as Reed dropped in 20 points and DeVoe added 17 as the Tigers held off the Tar Heels for the program’s first win over UNC in eight years.
DeVoe then dropped in 24 in a win at Wake Forest and then matched his career-high with 25 points, while hitting a career-high seven triples in the Tigers’ rout of Pitt last Thursday.
The Tigers have won four straight as guys like DeVoe, Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas are all stepping up in their own ways, and once again, Clemson’s leadership is where they want it to be as they hit the final stretch of the season.
“I don’t know that it is in a great place, but it is in a good place,” Brownell said. “I think we are trying. Donte still has to help.”
But that has been difficult lately for Grantham. According to Brownell his knee has been painful for him to deal with the last 10 days or so since his surgery.
“It was challenging for him this last week. He was okay for the first day or so, or as good as you could be,” the Clemson coach said. “He is just a guy that is an emotional guy that has that part of his personality, especially with this year’s team for whatever reason.”
However, Brownell likes the way his teammates have rallied behind Grantham and have all, in their own way, stepped up to put the Tigers in second place in the ACC standings heading into their Wednesday night game at Florida State.
“Gabe is a confident leader and a bright guy. It is good to see him emotionally invested,” Brownell said. “He is not one to always get that way and I think that is significant. Eli just has a big personality. He is sometimes like a big kid. There are times when that is really good, too.
“It takes all different kinds. I don’t think that Shelton is naturally a guy that does a lot of talking to other people, but he is bright enough to answer questions and knows what needs to be done. I think Marcquise has improved from a competitive standpoint this year and a confidence standpoint this year and so i think the way he cares himself, even though he is not a big rah-rah kind of guy.”
Then there are others like David Skara, Mark Donnal, Aamir Simms and Clyde Trapp, who are doing everything they can to fill the void as well.
Though the Tigers will never quite fill Grantham’s void, they are still in a good place.