By William Qualkinbush
In 2012, the Clemson basketball team was missing shooters. It was an obvious glaring weakness on the squad, and the staff took an all-hands-on-deck approach to finding ways to score points from the perimeter.
In stepped Jordan Roper, a skinny guard from Irmo that staff members openly admitted they would have liked to redshirt. But instead of sitting and preparing for a year, Roper became the most consistent shooter on the Tigers’ roster last season after being thrust into duty.
He may have been ahead of schedule last season, but Roper is excited to accept an even greater role this time around.
“It takes a while to get used to it,” Roper said of the college game. “Last year, it took a couple of games for me to get established within my role. It can change from game to game.”
With a guard-heavy team bolstered by players who—like Roper—might have redshirted in different situations last season, shooting should come easier for Clemson in 2013. The experience gained in the fire of league play last season has bonded the Tigers in ways Roper says will show up on the court as players begin to acclimate to roles they now feel more equipped to handle.
“We’re a strong unit together,” Roper said. “We believe in each other. That’s all we’re really focused on, just playing to our abilities.”
Some of the roles may change a bit this season. For example, Roper has worked primarily on improving his ball-handling this summer in anticipation of competing for playing time at point guard. The sophomore played off the ball for much of last season, but his frame—Roper stands barely six feet tall—is more conducive to the point guard spot.
Roper’s versatility should help build depth on a Clemson team that desperately needed more of it in 2012. He hopes the ability to combine players in different ways and get more bodies on the floor will help the Tigers wear down the opposition.
“Last year, we lacked depth in certain areas,” Roper said. “I think we’ll have a lot more depth this year. That allows us to pressure the ball a lot more. That’ll create a more up-tempo game for us.”
The team got an extra chance to develop its on-court identity with a series of exhibitions in Italy this summer. Roper says the 2013 Tigers are more connected with one another because of the things they experienced on the trip, a sensation that extends to their off-the-court brotherhood as well.
“It improved our camaraderie tremendously,” Roper said of the European excursion. “We got to play with each other a lot more.”
Roper knows his team will not be as desperate for his shooting as it was last season. Barring injury, which has already hit with the season-ending hip surgery sharpshooting freshman Patrick Rooks underwent last week, more players should be able to step up and shoot pressure shots for Brad Brownell’s bunch.
But that does not mean Roper is ready to abdicate his role.
“If the opportunity presents itself and I’m open, I’ll take the shot,” he said. “We all want to step up into those situations and produce for the team.”
Last year, Roper was the only option at times. He thinks it may be the exact opposite this season, which could bode well for Clemson basketball in the rigorous Atlantic Coast Conference.