By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- At the Brad Brownell Media Golf Outing Wednesday, Clemson Head Basketball Coach Brad Brownell spoke about how his team has grown up throughout the offseason, the progress made by the six freshmen, and the leadership skills shown early by seniors Tanner Smith, Andre Young, and Bryan Narcisse.
“I’m certainly excited about the start of another season,” Brownell said. “It’s more comfortable for me and my staff having been here a little bit, but it also feels more like Year 1A instead of Year 2 because of all of the new kids we have on our team this year. I think our older guys are much more comfortable and excited about how we play and do things and you see that through their daily interaction. Our new kids look like deer in headlights right now but that’s okay it’s part of the process. I always enjoy this time of year because it’s when you start to put the pieces of a team together and that’s what I really enjoy about coaching is putting the different parts together and making them fit, and we certainly have enough questions this season that it will be part of the challenge.”
As for the challenge that Brownell and his staff face after losing key players in Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, Brownell believes that this year’s group doesn’t have the talent level at this point in the offseason that last year’s team did.
“I don’t think we’re as talented this year as we were last year,” Brownell said. “So because of that, we do face a big challenge going into the season. The challenge last year was I just knew that Jerai was better than what the media or whoever felt like, even though he hadn’t done much in his career to date after working with him up to this point, our staff felt pretty good that this kid had a chance. In Demontez, you had a four year guy that played with a chip on his shoulder so you had no fear. This year’s team, we do have some kids that have played in Tanner and Andre, and those guys are not going to be in awe of anything but our other two seniors haven’t played a whole lot. They’re not as seasoned as you’d like. Devin and Milton have showed that they can be good players, now it’s just time for them to prove it. You mix that with five new guys, so we’ve got about half old, half new, we’re just not as talented from top to bottom, especially at the top. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t have a good team this season.”
Although this season, no one player has stood out to Brownell as Grant did last year, he has seen improvement in juniors Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, two players that Brownell believes need to be consistently good players if Clemson is going to be a consistent ball club.
“No one has stood out to Jerai’s level last year, Milton and Devin certainly have the potential to take the next step and become more consistent players, and quite frankly they need to,” Brownell said. “If they don’t then it’s going to be hard for us to be consistently good. Last year they played the same amount of minutes, if they played well great, if they didn’t we could still win. That’s not the case this year; there are not enough other standouts to be able to carry the load.”
“Bobo” the 7-2 Romanian senior on Brownell’s squad hasn’t been much of a factor throughout his career but according to Brownell he has made improvements and will have to see more playing time this season because of their thinness at his position.
“He’s got to play,” Brownell said. “He’s got to be productive for us. He’s fine now in terms of knowing what to do, size, skill level, it’s all about toughness and competitive spirit and that’s the hardest thing to teach as a coach. He’s got to take it to the next level as a competitor; it’s not okay to get scored on or outrebounded. He’s got to become more confident in himself and expect himself to perform at a high level, the nastiness you need to have when you’re playing under the basket isn’t his nature, but he’s coming along.”
As for the leadership on the team, Brownell looks to seniors Andre Young, Tanner Smith and even Bryan Narcisse who have done a good job so far in teaching the younger freshmen the ropes.
“Tanner and Andre and even Bryan are really good leaders,” Brownell said. “They’re all great kids, want to do the right thing, put in extra time and because they work so hard and guys see how hard they work and what they can do, guys respect them. They’ve had to wait their turn; they’ve been in good programs but have never been the voice of the program. There’s got to be a voice inside the team, and it can’t be the coach, if it’s always coach directed then it never gets to where it needs to. When it’s from the players, that’s when it’s something special. “
Milton Jennings, the McDonald All American coming out of high school wasn’t the all star player that fans thought he would be coming out of the gate, however each year with the program he’s improved tremendously, however Brownell hopes for him to add on some muscle and weight before the season starts.
“I still wish he was a little bigger, stronger, and heavier but he’s good size. He’s a stronger kid than his weight shows,” Brownell said. “He’s got to improve on finishing plays versus contact; he’s got good hands to rebound. He’s got to emotionally be consistent though, he can’t get so high or low. It’s part of his personality, so it’s a challenge for him to bounce back from a difficult play. Not everything is that big of a deal, he’s got to continue to learn that he’s got to be persistent in his approach and not let things bother you into the next play.”
As for the freshmen, TJ Sapp has gotten the most rave reviews out of the veterans for his communication and how confident he is when he’s on the court.
“What I liked out of him when I watched him in AAU was how much he communicated and talked on the court and how confident he looked when he played,” Brownell said. “I think he’ll have a chance to be a good player for us and play early because I think that his knowledge of the game is a little farther along than the other guys, defensively he has a better feel, and is better prepared. Because of that he’s more comfortable, confident and natural, not as edgy and nervous as most freshmen. “
Other than Sapp, Brownell believes Bernard Sullivan will be another one to play early because of their need for post players.
“Bernard will get opportunity to play because we’re down a post player,” Brownell said. “He’s got great size at 6-7, good weight at 225 as a freshman, it’ll be stamina for him, and once he gets tired he’ll start to make mental mistakes. His challenge will be obviously its more difficult for big kids, the physicality, being pushed on may wear him down.”
KJ McDaniels is another freshman that has caught Brownell’s eye for his athletic ability.
“He can make some plays that I can’t coach,” Brownell said. “Rebounding and blocked shots, there’s not a lot of coaching in that its guys making plays. He can get rebounds above the rim and block shots that you just don’t think other kids can do and because of that he has an opportunity. But he still has to execute and perform under pressure. I like his coach ability, he really wants to be good and our staff is excited about him. He was more athlete than basketball player when we first got him, but he’s closing the gap now and some of it is because of his athleticism, all of the other things, the pace, speed of the game will be a challenge but we’re very encouraged.”