Clemson players motivated by false reports of their head coach’s demise
SAN DIEGO — This time last year, some people wondered if Clemson head coach Brad Brownell would even return for his eighth season in Tiger Town.
Following the Tigers’ 17-16 record, two media outlets even reported his demise and who is replacement was going to be. Of course that did not sit too well with some of Brownell’s players.
“Sure, it was motivating because you always want to protect your family,” Clemson center Elijah Thomas said Thursday as the Tigers prepare for tonight’s First Round NCAA Tournament Game against New Mexico State. “He is family. We are his family and he is our family. Family oriented people do things for their family whenever they need it.”
Thomas said they tried not to pay the false reports any mind and they focused on getting better and getting over the hump. The Tigers, the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Regional, were close to being an NCAA Tournament team last year.
Clemson lost nine games by five points or less in the 2016-’17 season. This year, the Tigers turned that around and won six games by five points or less.
“Coach B always has my back and I always have Coach B’s back. He is like my best friend,” Thomas said. “He would tell us if ever anything like that was in place to happen. He is a real outspoken guy. We knew with the players we had coming back and the players that were coming in, obviously, we watched these guys play in high school, we had a chance to be something special this year.
“With the way the season ended last year, we had no choice not to pay it any mind because we knew what was in front of us.”
What was in front of them became the present as Clemson earned an invite to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years. The Tigers won 23 games, finished tied for third in the ACC standings and won a program best 11 ACC games in the regular season.
Clemson (23-9) then advanced to the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.
“For us this year, it was to show how good of a coach he really is, which he has always shown throughout his career,” Thomas said. “It just goes to show that it takes time. It is a process. Everyone was patient, but there were some that weren’t.
“I would get on Twitter after games last year and people were downing my coach. I’m on Twitter pretty all the time, and I’m always going to back my coach. I don’t like people disrespecting my coach. He is a really good guy. Sometimes people kind of forget the things he does for us on and off the court and the things that he teaches us. Coach Brownell has taught me so much and I have gained so much knowledge from him. I will always think of him as part of my family. I love him to death.”
Guard Shelton Mitchell admitted the false reports motivated the team in the off-season. They wanted to prove just how good of a coach Brownell is.
“We were aware of them,” he said. “That motivated us a lot. It was not just that. Not a lot of people had us being in the tournament. They picked us to finish thirteenth in the ACC coming into the season, so we were motivated the whole time. We knew we were better than everybody thought. I think that definitely helped.”