By Will Vandervort.
Let’s not fool ourselves, it will not easy for Clemson to replace K.J. McDaniels. There is a reason why the 6-foot-6 forward is playing in the NBA right now.
McDaniels is a gifted athlete who could jump higher than Littlejohn Coliseum if he wanted to do so. He was the only player in America last season that led his team in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, free throwing shooting and blocked shots. That’s why he was named First-Team All-ACC and was the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“Nobody is going to come out and do the things he did with the blocks and the putback dunks, but we have a pretty good team that everyone can balance the points out,” point guard Rod Hall said.
Though he isn’t K.J. McDaniels, there is one player on the Tigers’ roster that can score, rebound and block shots. That guy is center Landry Nnoko, who last year averaged 6.5 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, while blocking nearly two shots a night.
“Landry is playing with a lot of confidence right now. He realizes he is going to have to play pretty well for us to do well,” Hall said. “He knows that he is a big piece of our offense now so I think he has a chip on his shoulder.”
That chip comes from the fact most of the media and the fans think the Tigers will struggle now that McDaniels is playing in the NBA. They think there is no one on the Clemson roster this year to pick up the slack.
“I feel like it is my time,” Nnoko said.
Clemson head coach Brownell thinks it is too. He likes Nnoko’s ability to be able to block shots. He likes the way he moves his feet and his strength to guard other big men in the post.
“His development offensively is the next part of his game to come around, and we certainly saw glimpses of that last year,” Brownell said.
Last year, Nnoko’s best games came on the biggest stages. He scored 10 points and had 13 rebounds in the Tigers’ rout of over Duke. Then he produced 13 points in six rebounds in a win at Georgia Tech and 11 points and nine rebounds in a win over Maryland.
In the ACC Tournament, he again gave Duke fits with 10 points and eight rebounds, while following that up with an 11-point, eight-rebound performance against Illinois in the second round of the NIT.
“His confidence grew so we’re very optimistic that he’ll take another big step as a junior this season,” Brownell said.
The Clemson coach believes the 6-foot-10 center has a chance to be a double-figure scorer for the Tigers this season.
“On offense it is about being able to score with the ball in the post,” Nnoko said.
After recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus during the first part of the summer, Nnoko came back and worked hard in improving his low-post moves and his shots.
“In the summer it was about getting a lot of shots up and jump hooks,” he said. “At the start of the summer I had to focus on being healthy because I had the injury. Since then, I have been working on my moves and taken in all the knowledge I can.”
Now the Tigers hope all that knowledge and training starts to pay off come Nov. 14 when they open up the season against Florida A&M.