By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- With six freshmen on the Clemson Tigers’ basketball team roster, head coach Brad Brownell knew coming into the 2011 season that this young team would face a lot of adversity throughout the year. He was right, however the team came together during the month of February to finish off the season at 16-15 (8-8 in the ACC) however the late surge wasn’t enough to lock the Tigers’ into post season play for the first year since Oliver Purnell’s first year as head coach in 2003 where the Tigers’ ended their season 10-18.
“I guess I’m proud of the way our guys finished the year, certainly disappointed with the last half of the final game against Virginia Tech,” Brownell said on Wednesday. “I really think our guys did a good job of improving this year and playing pretty well throughout the month of February. Finishing 8-8 in the ACC after a difficult start was a good accomplishment for our guys, certainly had a few ups and downs during the beginning of the year. Knew it would take a while with a few freshmen having to play and roles changing for a lot of people. We lost a few games early that were disappointing but it was a learning process for this team and it took a while for us to play our best, at the end of the season I thought we were playing some pretty good basketball, just didn’t finish it out at the ACC Tournament the way we would have liked.”
Not only did the freshmen have to go through the transition process of playing college basketball as opposed to high school, but the older players also went through a process of becoming primary players, something that up until this season they weren’t used to being.
“I think our older guys went through a process of becoming primary players and guys that can finish games,” Brownell said. “Early on we had some struggles where that wasn’t the case where we could do that successfully, I think that changed as you watched us play throughout the season I think the older guys like Andre, Tanner, even Milt and Devin got comfortable in that role and in situations where it was tight and we needed to make a play. I knew by playing some of the young guys we had to play early on that we would be playing from behind sometimes and that it wouldn’t be easy, that’s where your defections or your lack of depth in classes comes to hurt you a little bit. I think our freshmen showed signs of playing well, all of them showed signs that they could play there were just consistency problems and now we have a long offseason to improve that.”
Although many believed that Clemson’s 2011 squad was young, as it consisted of 4 seniors, 2 juniors, and 6 freshmen, Clemson’s 2012 team will be even younger 10 underclassmen making up the team.
Brownell is looking to seniors Devin Booker and Milton Jennings to step up into the leadership roles left by Tanner Smith, Andre Young, and Bryan Narcisse, and also improve their game offensively.
“We’ll certainly have to talk to them about taking the next step,” Brownell said. “Tanner, Andre and Bryan Narcisse were certainly the leaders on this team. Those three guys led this team, they were vocal and led through their actions every day, and we’ll have to talk to Devin and Milton about being leaders and the approach that we want. Leadership doesn’t discriminate though, you can be a leader as a young player, assistant coach, manager there’s a lot of different ways to lead and show leadership qualities.”
“I’m hoping that Milt and Devin will become more consistent in terms of raising their games offensively to another level,” Brownell said. “I think they both have to take another big step for us to truly be successful next year. That’s as important as our rising sophomores improving their game. Our two big fellas inside, it’s on them to take another big step, it’s their senior year they’ve got the talent and ability they need to be ready to do that.”
As for the freshmen coming in, the same questions will surround them as they did this season. Will they be physically ready to contribute at the collegiate level?
“Our freshmen coming in there will be a couple of them that what we’re doing will be physically demanding for them,” Brownell said. “There will be a couple that basketball will be very demanding in terms of how much they’re asked to do how quickly. One thing is if you ask our freshmen what they learned this year, they’d tell you they didn’t know basketball was so complicated, the preparation at this level is so much different than what they’re used to. It’s a process and until you go through it, or fail and it wakes you up then you start really paying attention. Guys learn differently and there’s a process, certainly that’s a concern we’ll have 10 underclassmen and 2 older players, but it’s not like I don’t think we’ll get through it, overcome it and have success.”
As far as if Clemson will have its own shot creator which they desperately needed at times during last season, Brownell’s answer was a quick maybe.
“There aren’t a lot of shot creators on a lot of teams, you’re lucky if you have one, a guy that can go and get his own shot anytime,” Brownell said. “The teams that have multiple guys like that are few and far between. Having said that, I don’t know if we have one of those guys right now, we have guys that have the ability to make baskets. We don’t have a great shooter either; in my opinion Andre is the only one that can be classified as a great shooter. I don’t think Andre shot great all of the time but yet he had the ability and had some games where he did. We have several guys that can make a three and we’ll have to solve some of those problems with different guys.
The freshmen coming in have the opportunity to challenge the older players right off the spot for playing time, especially at the point guard position where sophomore Rod Hall will be challenged by freshmen Jordan Roper and Adonis Fuller.
“That battle will be between Rod and Adonis and Jordan and those are three guys that will most likely be competing for the point guard minutes,” Brownell said. “There may be times when you can put two of those guys out there at the same time like Rod can play with Adonis or Jordan based on the fact that Rod is so strong he can guard a lot of different types of players. Rod’s a versatile guy, a junkyard dog type. I’m hopeful that Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper will be two good players, Jordan needs strength but he has some ability and athleticism to be able to create some shots and shoot behind screens. Whether he’s able to do that as a freshman I don’t know. Adonis is a mix between the two, he’s a stronger body type, not as big as Rod but more ready to handle the rigors, he’s played some good basketball so we’re optimistic that he’ll be ready to contribute right away.”
As for 6-11 Center Landry Nnoko, Brownell hopes that he’ll be able to contribute just as Bobo did this season but contribute earlier than Baciu did.
“I certainly think that Landry will be able to help us in the post,” Brownell said. “He’s obviously got competition there, he’s got two big guys to battle with but we need him to defend and rebound. He needs to be able to come in and help us like Bobo did, I don’t know if he’ll be ready to finish some plays like Bobo right now but I need him to be able to rebound and defend his position. Those were some things that were at times problematic for Bobo, but we need him there to help provide depth.”
As for Jaron Blossongame, the Tigers’ sole ESPN 100 recruit, Brownell compares him to KJ McDaniels in that he is capable of making the jaw dropping plays.
“Jaron Blossongame is a little like KJ he has the physical tools to be able to contribute as a young player,” Brownell said. “He’s athletic, going to make a couple of wow plays; it’s his consistency as well. How consistent can he be at the wing? He hasn’t played pure wing a whole lot in his life, he’s done it periodically but that’s one of the reasons why we got him, we went after him harder and before some other people, believed that he could do it before others did. Now is that going to happen his freshmen year? I don’t know. I think it will happen during his career, he’ll be a good player, and he has the tools to athletically be able to play at the level as a freshman. Hopefully he can develop the skills needed, and picks up concepts quickly for playing wing.”
And Josh Smith out of Charlotte, NC is described by Brownell as a bigger body kid, who will physically be able to do some things.
“His challenge is being a young guy coming in and playing against older men that are bigger and stronger,” Brownell said. “He has a pretty good sense of how to play though, what he can do might surprise some people. But he’ll have a lot of competition at his position.”