By Trey McCurry.
First year Clemson head coach Brad Brownell held his first media kickoff Thursday at The Reserve. Brownell is anxious to get practices started with Rock the ‘John next Friday.
We are really excited to get started. We feel good about what we have been able to do in the pre-season. They guys are working unbelievably hard and finished up conditioning workouts this morning. It’s time to get on the court here soon and really get to work. I’m anxious to see how our guys pick up our philosophy and what we are trying to do.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise for you out of the group of returning players?
A: It is hard to say since we haven’t done anything as a full team setting so you don’t always understand or see how guys interact with each other. It’s one thing to go shoot shots, and then go do it in live play. The attitude of our guys has been really good. They have been good about working, being coachable, and we haven’t fought them at all on any of the ideas we’re trying to do.
If I had to pick just one guy, it would have to be Bobo. From the standpoint of listening to people talk and looking at his stats, there is almost no expectation for the guy because he hasn’t play in two years. I’ve done some things in terms of getting with the strength coach and Bobo has put on weight and is up to 255, which I think is a must. And he’s worked really hard. I don’t know what that’s going to lead to yet, but he’s a guy I think will play for us this year and most people didn’t see that coming.
Q: The last four years Trevor Booker was the guy that stepped up in big moments. Do you think it will take awhile for someone to do it this year?
A: It could be. Players all want that opportunity and sometimes players feel like they deserve it when they haven’t earned it. Our guys are in a position right now where they are going to get the opportunity. Demontez Stitt has earned that right to be a leader. He needs to be a good player for us, a guy that elevates his game, and becomes one of the better players in our league. Somebody else is going to have to join him for us to have success. Not 100% sure who that will be, but it will take some time for that to happen, especially with a new coach and a little bit of a new system. But I do think we have some guys that want to step up and be the guy.
Q: How quickly do you expect the players to adapt to your style and how important is that to have a quick learning curve?
A: I think the offense will be more difficult and complicated than what they have done here in the past. When you have great players like Booker, you don’t have to be as complicated. The more “better players” you have, the simpler you can be and still be successful because you have really good players. When you aren’t as talented, you have to find ways to manufacture baskets. It’ll take a little longer because we’re going to have to be more complicated offensively. I don’t think we have many of those guys like Booker in the program now. We just have to coach some of those guys up.
Defensively, there will be changes in how far out we pressure. But it shouldn’t be as much of a challenge as on offense. We should be able to pick defense up quicker. We will be very demanding on that end of the floor.
Q: You mentioned manufacturing baskets, is it too early to tell who your best scorers could be?
A: I would assume Stitt is one. We need somebody inside to emerge. Devin Booker is the logical candidate as far as having the physical tools, he just doesn’t have a lot of game experience. I don’t think we’re going to have three guys who are going to average 15 points a game. It’s probably more realistic to think we’ll have some guys who average 8 to 12 with maybe one guy getting 15. But then again, I haven’t worked with these guys in a 5-on-5 setting to see how they adjust.
Q: Have you challenged Jerai Grant at all to step up this year?
A: I don’t know if I would say challenged as much as just talking to him. We are hoping he understands this is his last go-round as a senior. It is his chance to put his name on the program for his career. He’s done well. He’s in better shape. He’s bigger and stronger and up to 228 pounds. He benefited tremendously from having Trevor. He was given a lot of passes for dunks and put-backs because guys were double-teaming Trevor. Now he has to elevate his game and go get his own baskets.
Q: This team misses Oglesby and Rivers as guys who could stretch the floor last season. Do you think you will have guys who can prove they can do that and add that element?
A: Shooting will be the question mark for us. Some of our guys will certainly improve. I don’t know that we’ll be one of better shooting teams in ACC, but we have to shoot the ball reasonably well to win. Our guys and coaches understand that so that’s why we have put a lot of time and effort into that.
Q: Last year’s freshman class came in with a lot of hype. Do you think the greatest growth is between the first and second year and what kind of growth can Clemson nation expect from them?
A: The thing that is great for those guys is that they are going to have opportunities. As a young player, you want to act like coaches aren’t letting them do all they want to do or they don’t get on the court as much as they want. If you would have asked every one of those kids last year, they would have said they wanted to play more and maybe should have played more. Looking at what Coach Purnell did, I would say that he was probably right in that he played the guys that he thought were going to win and they won a lot of games. The opportunity for those guys now to shine is there. If they don’t, it’s on them. It’s up to them to make the most of their opportunity. There are not as many other guys around. We only have 11 scholarship players and those guys have been through the ACC so now they have to make the most of their opportunity.
Q: Do you think Milton Jennings is going to have a better chance to shine in your offense than he did in an offense like Coach Purnell’s?
A: Whether it is the style of offense or not, Milt will certainly have a chance to play a lot “out on the court,” which we do a lot of in our motion offense. He will have chances to be moving throughout the possession, which is probably good for him. I hope he’s ready to handle that. I think he’s excited, but whether he’s ready is on him.
Q: You said over the summer the guys worked unbelievably hard?
A: In terms of strength training and conditioning, they have done more this off-season than maybe in the past here. They have really worked compared to the other teams I have coached. Our strength coach, Preston Greene, is outstanding. He and I got together right after I got here and one of the differences in Coach Purnell and I is that he wanted long and thin. He wasn’t as concerned with physical size as he was their movement. In our system, you need to be physically strong. There were several guys in the program that in my opinion were underweight and not as strong as they need to be. We’ve made weightlifting and eating and putting on weight more of a priority.
Q: Does that suggest a more physical style of play?
A: This team has to play with an inside presence because we have four guys that are 6-8 or bigger. Because we don’t shoot the ball quite as well as some other teams, we’re going to have to get the ball into the block and score. We’re going to have to score, get fouled and make some free throws. It won’t be distinctly different than before, but it will have to be a point of emphasis. Without the double-teams on Booker, I’ve told them they are going to have to win some 1-on-1’s and score. They’ve accepted the challenge, and they like that.
Q: Is it a more deliberate offense?
A: It will be a little more deliberate. It’s not going to be walking it up every possession and try to win in the 40s. The best teams do both. They can win in the 50s and win in the 80s. There is a tremendous misconception about that. All the NCAA Tournament games are in the 50s. It’s high-pressure, lower-possession basketball. I’m not saying that’s the only way to win, but come the meat of the season, the game grinds slower. You better be prepared to win some of those games unless you just have more talent than everybody.
Q: How do you feel about the outside expectations about this team with the transition in coaches and style that it may be an time when the team takes a step back this year?
A: I hope people are thinking that it is more people think they lost Trevor Booker instead of a change in coach. Anytime you lose a Booker, it is never easy to flip the switch on how you are going to go forward. But you have to go forward and go play the games. In terms of the expectations, I don’t worry about them. My expectations are always high for my staff, my team, and me. Our challenge is to be the best we can with our personnel and get better every day.
Q: Where can Stitt grow as a player?
A: Stitt is a talented guy with good experience. He’s a competitor. Back him into a corner, he’s going to swing. He’s going to fight. He’s a proud kid. He plays with a chip on his shoulder like he wasn’t a 4 or 5 star recruit and he should’ve been. He only had to take open 3’s last year because Booker gave him wide-open shots. This year I don’t know if his percentage will be as good. He will have to make more, and he will have to make more difficult ones. His ball-handling will get better. Very good defender. We need somebody to take over as leader of the program and be a calming influence. He’s not a vocal kid by nature but he’s trying to become one. He has wanted to be asked to be that kind of presence, and maybe previously he wasn’t asked in the way that I asked him. He yearns to be that kind of leader and have that kind of stature on the team.
Q: In this conference, with Duke and North Carolina and their recruits, does your background give you an advantage in recruiting guys to Clemson?
A: I’ve found it is like the haves and the have nots. In mid-major basketball, everybody has something that somebody else wants. We can’t worry about who North Carolina and Duke are recruiting. We have to focus on us and recruiting good kids who want to come to Clemson. I’ve been good at putting different types of players together to form a team. That has as much value as the star ratings. You’ve got to have different ingredients fit. That’s what we had to do at Wright State and UNC Wilmington. You have to make your guys fit in a league. We can’t worry day-in day-out about who Duke and North Carolina are recruiting. You’ve just got to go and have an approach like that.