The story behind the mantra that has defined the Tigers’ run to the Sweet 16
OMAHA, Neb. — Last summer, before Clemson began individual workouts, one of Brad Brownell’s assistant coaches approached him with the idea of branding the program, similar to what Dabo Swinney and the football program has done for years in Tiger Town.
Since winning their first ACC Championship in 2011, Swinney’s teams have always had a saying that reflects the attitude and the personality of that particular team. He puts the message on T-shirts, walls, etc. Anywhere the team can see it as a way of installing it into the psyche of his players.
“There are going to be ups and downs,” Brownell said. “There are going to be difficult times. If you’re going to be successful you need to be able to persevere through that and have this undying belief in yourself and this passion of what you want achieve.
“You are willing to work for it and you are willing to go through these ups and downs and these challenges.”
In thinking about what some of his returning players had to go through the previous season, losing so many close games, the negativity associated with losing those games, the false reports of his demise at Clemson and so much more, Brownell came up with the slogan, “Clemson Grit” to describe the attitude and the personality he wanted to see from the 2017-’18 team.
“Coach implanted that in our minds and what it means every single day in every practice, every walk through and every film session,” forward Aamir Simms said. “So every time we play, we have this in the back of our minds to go out there and give it 110-percent.”
What is “Clemson Grit” exactly?
“Grit, passion and perseverance toward a long-term goal and that can be applied to many things,” Brownell said.
Brownell wanted to challenge his players to think about the big picture. Not what is happening in the moment, but what can happen in the long-term if you do the little things right and work hard for a common goal.
“Long-term isn’t really how young people think,” Brownell said. “It’s not just about a season. It might be a college career. It might be a professional career. It might be graduating from college. It can pertain to just about anything.
“You need to have tremendous passion for something in your life if you want to be successful.”
The 2017-’18 Tigers have definitely been successful. Playing with grit and passion for the game and for each other, this year’s Clemson team has achieved things not many Clemson basketball teams have.
They’re the first Clemson team in the last 20 years to make it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. They have already won 25 games, matching the program’s all-time record for a single-season and they won 11 regular season games in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the most in the program’s history.
None of it has been easy either. True to their mantra, they have shown a lot of “grit” to get where they are.
Last year, Clemson was 5-9 in games decided by five points or less. This year, they went 6-3, including wins over NCAA Tournament teams Louisville, Miami and North Carolina.
The Tigers’ grit has also paid off away from home. Clemson has already won 10 games on the road or on neutral courts and are one win away from tying the school record set by the 1996-’97 team.
“We are doing whatever it takes to win,” senior guard Gabe DeVoe said. “I feel like our group is a battle tested group, and it shows in late games.”
It also showed up after star forward and senior leader Donte Grantham tore his ACL in his right knee in a win over Notre Dame back on Jan. 20. The Tigers fought through that adversity in that game and found a way to win it when no one thought they could.
Then after being in embarrassed by ACC Champion Virginia in the first whole game without Grantham, the Tigers reeled off four straight victories, once again proving all the doubters wrong.
Since that first Virginia game on Jan. 23, Clemson is 9-5 and will play No. 1 seed Kanas here on Friday night in the Midwest Regional Semifinals as part of the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
“To me, that’s what ‘grit’ is. Staying power,” Brownell said.
That is “Clemson Grit.”