By William Qualkinbush
After Tuesday night’s game with South Carolina State, Brad Brownell showed some tough love—even in victory.
His Clemson team survived a sluggish start to win by double figures against the Bulldogs, but Brownell was displeased with the approach his best player took in the game. The coach understands these games are going to happen as forward K.J. McDaniels learns how to function as the alpha male game after game, so he is treating it as a bump in a long and winding road for the junior.
“That is going to be part of the process with him,” Brownell said on Tuesday night. “He is going to get game-planned. They are going to take him out and make him do tough things and he is going to have to fight his way through things.”
McDaniels will look to right the ship again when the Tigers hit the road to face high-powered Arkansas on Saturday. His leadership and explosiveness could be key ingredients to a Clemson win in its first true road game of the season, especially given the Razorbacks’ desire to speed up the pace of play.
“This isn’t one of those games where the coaches have a lot to do with it once it gets going,” Brownell said. “Guys are going to have to make plays and make good decisions.”
McDaniels had done those things well prior to Tuesday’s game, and Brownell believes he will continue to do them with more consistency as he grows. There is little concern that McDaniels’ passive performance will linger because, according to Brownell, his starting small forward does not normally let that happen.
“K.J. is just a very happy-go-lucky kid,” Brownell said. “He’s focused about what he wants to do. He wants to be a good player. He wants to have a good team. He wants to play on winning teams.
“I don’t think it flusters him that he had a bad game. I hope it grabs his attention a little bit that he can’t take things for granted. He still has things that he’s really got to work on.”
A season-worst seven points was the lowlight of Tuesday’s game for McDaniels. Brownell says the Tigers’ leading scorer was hanging out on the perimeter too much and not attacking as aggressively as he needed to be.
Even though everything turned out well against South Carolina State, Brownell knows McDaniels’ skills will be needed to combat Arkansas’ quickness and length—particularly on defense, as they attempt to force quick turnovers and take opposing teams out of their respective offenses.
“That’s why versatile players are good,” Brownell said. “You’ve got guys that can play multiple positions and do multiple things.”
Brownell knows young teams sometimes need to learn certain lessons by experiencing them for the first time. In those cases, preparation is often inadequate in simulating actual game dynamics.
McDaniels embarks on his first road game as the de facto team leader with his worst game of the season in his immediate rear view mirror. Brownell has to hope the junior bounces—literally and figuratively—back to help his team pick up a quality win in a hostile place on Saturday.