By William Qualkinbush
Rod Hall and K.J. McDaniels are leaders by default, not be nature. Both would freely admit it.
The Clemson men’s basketball team has no seniors this season, so leadership must come from somewhere else. That is where McDaniels and Hall—both juniors—have stepped in and taken control of those roles for a Tiger team that has played well jumping out to a 3-0 start.
Both guys saw a void and filled it, even though neither might seem like the obvious choice to lead a basketball team. Hall is a quiet player, which is something his head coach, Brad Brownell, is trying to help him manage. McDaniels is still discovering himself as a player and can struggle with inconsistency.
Nevertheless, both players have willingly accepted the challenge of coming to the forefront in the Clemson locker room.
“We’re not vocal by nature,” McDaniels said. “We discuss it a lot between each other, saying we have to sacrifice a little bit and do a little extra for the sake of the team since we’re the oldest.”
According to some of the younger players on the team, someone entering the locker room for the first time might not believe McDaniels’ assertion that he and Hall are quiet guys. The transition into a leadership role has been that smooth, which also means the rest of the locker room has responded well to the new arrangement.
“I feel like K.J. and Rod are more vocal to this team right now,” redshirt freshman Jaron Blossomgame said. “We have a lot of young guys that are willing to listen to the older people. I think they’ve done a great job at teaching us what to do and how to handle certain situations in practice and in games.”
Leadership can come in different varieties, but it must be able to translate words into action. When the Tigers saw their second-half lead cut to a point against South Carolina on Sunday, Hall and McDaniels combined to score the next ten points during a three-minute stretch that gave Clemson control again.
The output came due to the duo being stretched in practice by the coaching staff, who allows players to police themselves during certain periods so they can build up mental toughness that shows itself during adverse circumstances in games.
“They’re not coaching as much,” McDaniels said of those periods. “They put us in positions where we might have to go out there and motivate each other.”
Brownell has consistently looked to his older players for leadership at Clemson, and this year is no different. However, he has a chance to see a multi-year developmental process for those leaders for the first time.
“I haven’t had the luxury of really having that since I’ve been the coach here,” Brownell said. “It’s like the two best players on the team have been seniors and have left. In all honesty, that’s a little abnormal.”
Brownell says much of his leadership among the teams he has coached at Clemson has come from players who, in one way or another, were reluctant to take the reins. He hopes immediate discomfort for his two juniors will lead to long-term rewards in his locker room.
So far, so good for the quiet, shy teammates now stepping into vocal leadership roles for the first time.