Clemson head coach Brad Brownell held a preseason new conference Tuesday as the Tigers prepare to open the season Friday night against Gardner Webb.
“I’m excited about my second year. In some ways it’s similar to last year, but it’s also different. It’s good to have six returning players. I’m pleased with the exhibition, especially from a defensive standpoint. Everyone wanted to talk about offense last year, but defense is more of the area that I emphasize. You win with defense. We’re a little further along defensively than we are offensively. Defensively, we played well against Queens and we need to continue to do that early on as we learn the offense.
On the progress of his freshmen:
“The exhibition was good for those guys to play as much as they did. Good for them to get game experience. They all have certain strengths and weaknesses. T.J. Sapp has been one of our better defensive guys, but he didn’t play as well as we would’ve liked against Queens. He’ll have an opportunity to play more than other guys.
“K.J. McDaniels is a terrific athlete. He’s still learning how to be a complete player. He has a lot of things to learn but his athletic tools are high. The faster he absorbs everything, the more he’ll play.
“Bernard Sullivan started slower than I would’ve thought, but he’s picked it up in the last couple of days. He tries so hard that he’s guilty of over-thinking. A challenge of our style is that there’s a lot more thinking. These freshmen sometimes are thinking rather than just playing and reacting. We have to try to do a good job of keeping some things as simple as we can, but we also have to move at a pace for the older guys to be successful. I’ve seen good improvement with Bernard [Sullivan] in a lot of places over the last two days.
“Rod Hall does a good job in our jammer role and pressuring the ball. That’s going to help him get a lot of minutes. He’s a great passer and has good poise when he’s feeding the post.
“Devin Coleman is further behind defensively, and offensively, we want him to work to be a scorer and a shooter. It’s hard for a freshman to come in with that mentality. He’s made some improvements, especially defensively. All those guys have a long way to go.”
On number of freshmen:
“I don’t think I’ve had a team with this many new kids. It’s been a challenge because the older guys understand what we’re talking about, but have to be patient while the new guys learn. The returners need to get back to their good habits that we worked to last year. Once we work with them, they will get back to where they need to be.
“Offensively, they have a good feel for motion, but now the roles have changed. They’re being asked to make more plays. We have to develop other guys to replace Jerai [Grant] and Demontez [Stitt]. We have to make other guys the playmakers this year. We have to figure out the best way to get shots.
“Queens played very soft on defense and sometimes our post guys got a little too content with just catching the ball. The older guys have a good feel of what we’re trying to do but the new guys don’t. We’re in a place where the older guys might get frustrated with the pace of the game and the coaches get frustrated with the learning curve. We need some of these freshmen to step up a little more, but they’re not ready for that yet.”
On T.J. Sapp:
“He’s further along than the other guys. There’s opportunity for playing time because Demontez [Stitt] left. He’s in the best spot to have a chance to start.”
On early season struggles:
“I think there could be more struggles this year and it could be more challenging now because we have more guys playing that haven’t played Division I basketball. Last year’s guys had a lot of experience, so they weren’t going to get rattled. We just had to get where we would play our best. We struggled with some things internally last year.
“We tried to give them a little freedom to run the offense on the court. They love the freedom that you give them, but at the same time, they all can’t take eight shots a game. We had to fight through those kinds of things last year. This year, it’s going to be a lot of ‘new’ things. We have a lot more guys learning and starting from the very beginning. Those are more challenging.”
On what he looks for out of opener against Gardner-Webb:
“Daily improvement is where we’re focused. At this stage, teams are so different than they are two months from now. You want to improve. All these early games and early season tournaments – guys don’t know who to play when, with whom, in what situation. We don’t have spring practice. We don’t have kids that redshirt very often and get used to the system. True freshmen in basketball are just that – true freshmen. They have to learn how to play in Division I basketball. Watching Saturday night’s film showed that we were better than I thought on offense, but we need to keep getting better.”
On Catalin [Bobo] Baciu:
“He gave us good minutes against Queens. He’s stronger, more confident, and he’s better. He’s not the most physical guy. It’s hard to make a guy nasty. Bobo isn’t that type of player. When you make him mad, he’ll come at you a little. He doesn’t wake up every day and walk into the gym nasty. I wish he did. His skills are good enough that he can be a good player. Hopefully he’ll get more confident and he’ll get a little nastier.
“When you have confidence, you can land the first blow. He has to get comfortable and confidence enough to get the ball and score. I hope the longer the season goes, the more he plays. Some games will be harder for him to play because of a defensive style, but other games will be made for him to play. He went to China to play this summer because he needed game experience. He needed to be counted on to make plays in game situations. He hasn’t had that through three years so that trip was good for him.”
On road games early in the schedule:
“Road games are hard with freshmen. We need to play these tough road games like Arizona and Iowa to get us ready to play in the ACC. Winning on the road is difficult at this level. Teams play better at home. We have to put ourselves in difficult environments so that we know how we perform in areas that are hostile.”
On leadership of Tanner Smith and Andre Young:
“Kids have to lead in their own ways. Tanner [Smith], Bryan [Narcisse], and Andre [Young] have tried to be good leaders. I’ve challenged them to lead. Andre is a great player and a great kid, but he’s just not overly vocal. I think it would help him as a player and a leader to become more vocal. He loves to lead by example. He works as hard as anybody.
“Tanner is more outgoing and more comfortable talking. He talked last year, but I’ve given him the freedom to really be the on-the-court leader. The huddles that the guys get during free throws; I want those to be his huddles.
“Bryan is more of the energy and positive reinforcement guy. You need all different kinds of leaders. Bryan’s energy has been great. He pulls guys aside a lot and helps them with little things. Each one of those guys leads a little differently but they’re really trying. Demontez [Stitt] was in charge of those ‘on the court’ huddles last year. He was fiery and you fed off of his passion. He was as good a player for that as he was for anything else. Your will to win is as important as anything.”
On Andre Young’s role:
“He’s our best shooter. He’s one of the best in our league. He might be the top of the scouting report this year. He’s going to have to move more and change direction on his cuts. I didn’t think he took all of his scoring opportunities on Friday night. We have to do things to help him get open, but he has to be patient. He has to execute off screens better.
“It was easier for him to get shots last year because there was emphasis on Demontez [Stitt]. We are also going to have to have guys that want to shoot more. I want Tanner [Smith] to think of himself as a primary shooter so that he can step up when Andre gets shut down.”
On Gardner-Webb’s strengths:
“They shoot the ball well. They really spread you out defensively. They run a lot of ball screens. It negates some of the size advantages we’re going to have. Offensively, their style is a type that we’re going to see a lot. We’re going to guard 200 ball screens. It’s not a traditional offense that we’re going to be able to over power.”