New and old transfers, along with new crop of freshmen got Tigers back to NCAAs
SAN DIEGO — There is no doubting the roles players such as Marcquise Reed, Gabe DeVoe, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas played for Clemson during its run to the NCAA Tournament this year.
All four are averaging double-digit in points, and at some point they have all made key plays or had great games that led the Tigers to victory.
But Clemson, who will play 12th seed New Mexico State in the First Round of the Midwest Regional tonight (9:57 p.m.) at Viejas Arena in San Diego, isn’t in the Big Dance just because of its top four scorers.
The Tigers, the No. 5 seed, have also had some key contributions from role players such as freshman Aamir Simms, who came in and started when Donte Grantham went down with a torn ACL in his right knee, has lifted Clemson with key baskets in big moments. Graduate transfer Mark Donnal, who went to the Sweet 16 with Michigan last year, has come off the bench and made big-time shots as well. David Skara, who transferred from Valparaiso, is a Brad Brownell kind of player, who plays tough relentless defense.
Then there are freshmen like A.J. Oliver, Clyde Trapp and Malik William, who have come off the bench as well and provided much needed sparks at different times this season. Oliver made three big-time three pointers in the Tigers’ win over Boston College in the ACC Tournament last week.
“They have been like a breath of fresh air in our locker room,” Brownell said.
Thomas says the new guys have provided the program with some new energy that was missing on last year’s team.
“Their energy has been great,” he said. “They bring a lot of energy with the things they do on and off the court. Energy like that has a tendency of keeping guys together and everyone wanting to be around each other more.”
Simms said they have been able to help this year’s team because they are loyal to Brownell and being very coachable.
“You don’t want to be a part of a big program like this and not be coachable,” the freshman said. “For us freshmen to come in and the transfers and all of us to come together, well that is really a blessing for us. To have that moment and then seeing it all come together now is tremendous.”
Speaking of the transfers, there is no doubt Skara’s and Donnal’s presence, along with Reed, has helped Clemson get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years. All three guys played in the NCAA Tournament at other schools. Reed went to the tournament his freshman year at Robert Morris.
“It is awesome to be a part of a team that has not been in a while. There is a different energy in the air in March and I think everybody is really excited to be a part of this,” Donnal said. “I saw last year when I was going through the whole recruiting process that Clemson was just a few games short of making the NCAA Tournament and I wanted to help be a part of the team that kind of got them over that hump.”
Donnal was a part of three straight NCAA Tournament invites at Michigan, including last year’s run to the Sweet 16.
“I think all three of us just hope to bring that competitive edge to practice,” he said. “With all three of us being a part of teams that have been to tournaments before, we kind of know what it takes to get there. It is not easy, but you just have to kind of do the little things that make good teams play good in March.”
Skara hopes they can use their personal experiences in the Big Dance to help Clemson make a run in the tournament.
“Coach always praises me and Mark as pieces that really fit for the team,” he said. “Mark, especially, has been with Michigan and to the Sweet 16 and made the tournament a few times. That experience brings a lot to the team, especially with the new guys and helping them.”