OMAHA, Neb. — Clemson head coach Brad Brownell, Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham spoke to the media Thursday morning at Centurylink Center in Omaha.
Clemson, the fifth seed, will play top seed Kansas in the Midwest Regional Semifinals on Friday at 7 p.m.
The transcript of the press conference follows:
COACH BROWNELL: We’re obviously very excited about being here in Omaha. Couldn’t be more pleased with the way our guys played out in San Diego. I thought we played some of the best basketball of our season, especially in the win over Auburn. Just thought we were very good on both ends.
And it was just really a sweet situation for us, really happy for our seniors who have been through some things here with our program. And couldn’t be more excited about having the opportunity to play a great Kansas team. Bill’s done an unbelievable job with their team. They’re probably not your typical Kansas team with two big power players and high-low motion offense that you usually see.
They’ve got four guards. They spread you out, play with great pace, make 10 3s a game, have some unique action in their dribble drive with a lot of cutting to make it a little bit more difficult to guard. And obviously we know they’re going to be a big Kansas contingent here. So we’ll have to play extremely well, but really looking forward to the game.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. This week the NBA and USA Basketball released a set of recommendations and new rules they’d like to see implemented for youth basketball. High school shot clock, lower baskets, no-zone defense, no 3-point shot until 12-years-old. As a college coach, what would you like to see developmentally change in youth basketball?
COACH BROWNELL: I would to be a lot of those reasons or adjustments. My dad was a high school coach in southern Indiana, so I grew up around the game. And watching the game, it’s very much over-coached at the youth age. And what I mean by that is everybody’s trying to put plays in and play zone defenses instead of teaching kids fundamentals and passing and dribbling and shooting skills.
And I think playing on smaller goals is important to build good habits. I do think the shot clock is a good idea because it does force kids, especially as you begin to get older — and I wish we had it in high schools now because we have it in college — to make more individual plays. And there’s going to be more possessions, some more plays are going to need to be made. So, I do think those are all really good things.
I’m a big proponent of man-to-man defense and teaching kids really how to play. I think we have way too many folks that are, again, trying to win 10-year-old championships instead of just, let’s get kids to enjoy the game and teach them how to play the game the right way.
Q. Could you comment a little bit just on how this is kind of the ACC West basketball tournament with the exception, of course, you play Kansas tomorrow? But does that do anything with the dynamic of it, just from a preparation standpoint of if those two teams collide?
COACH BROWNELL: It doesn’t affect us here early, just because our focus has just been on Kansas, but certainly should we win then whoever we play we will have just played them in the last month. Obviously Syracuse was our last regular season game up there. Duke we played recently at our place.
So the preparation in terms of a quick turnaround won’t be as challenging as if it was somebody completely different like it was last week with Auburn. Again, I just think what the ACC has shown in this year’s tournament, again, is just the quality of depth of the league. We obviously always have our blue-blood powerhouses. But you watch, Florida State in the Sweet 16, Syracuse has made it to the Sweet 16. Teams that finish in the middle or so of our league.
If you can get in the tournament, because of the way — as competitive as our league is, you’re going to have a chance to advance. It’s just the type of teams we play, the quality of coaching, the quality of play, the different styles of play that are in our league, I think, make it unique or more unique than some of the other leagues, where I think a lot of the teams play almost the same. So I think all of those things, again, help the teams in our league do well in this tournament.
Q. Both teams are kind of built around some great guard play. Could you highlight your guys and then talk about what you see in Kansas guards?
COACH BROWNELL: We have three really good players. Gabe DeVoe — outstanding shooter, big, strong wing, can put it on the floor and score and just having a terrific senior season. Marcquise Reed is just one of those combo-type guards that can really score, has a knack for scoring, can make 3s, but also quick, a lot of shot-making ability. Some stuff you don’t coach that he just has in terms of making runners and floaters and things of that nature. And then Shelton Mitchell is just a very good point guard with good size, speed, makes 3s. Handles it well.
And they’re experienced, which I think is important. Certainly the Kansas guards are all really good. Malik Newman is playing maybe as well as he’s played. Right now looks like that, at least shooting the ball. We obviously haven’t followed him all year, but he’s at another level. Devonte’ Graham, we know very well and is an outstanding player, 17 points, eight assists a game. Great pace. Can score in the paint, make 3s, puts pressure on your defense. Svi is dynamic on the wing, big, 6’8″, long, athletic, shoots 3s, drives, closeouts, gets in the paint, scores over the top of you. Vick, another unbelievable athlete. Makes 3s.
I mean, it just goes on and on about their team. That’s why they’re really good. But the thing that needs to be said from a coaching perspective and what’s fun about coaching in these tournaments is getting the opportunity to study other teams. And I’ve seen Bill’s teams from afar, because I’m a basketball junkie and I study everything, but to watch him do what he’s doing with this group, unbelievable coaching job, to take a different kind of team and to still win the conference and get them to play at this level, it’s obviously why he’s one of the best coaches in our game.
Q. You have upperclassmen, but KU’s upperclassmen obviously have been to this point a lot, played a lot of tournament games, that kind of thing. Is that NCAA Tournament experience edge a concern at all?
COACH BROWNELL: You know, not really. I think the bigger advantage is them playing with their fans. And I think that’s an advantage. It’s different. It was a true neutral court out in San Diego. New Mexico State had a nice following. Auburn and Clemson, we had good followings.
But the bigger advantage to me is just playing in front of 12,000 of your fans. And I think that’s a significant advantage. I think our guys, in terms of playing, I mean, we think our league is just as good or better than any league in the country. We play great teams every week. And obviously we’ve had some success against those teams.
So in terms of just playing in an important game, I hope that our guys are ready to play, and we showed that last week. If somehow we don’t play well, I think it would be easy to say that it was the stage, but it would probably be Kansas, is what it would be.
And so I hope that that’s not the issue. I hope our guys are comfortable and confident, and we go in here and we play like we did just last week, because we played really well.
Q. We’ve obviously known Clemson as a baseball brand up here, and the football program’s success speaks for itself. How important was it taking the step for your basketball program, especially you mentioned earlier the blue bloods in your league and what you have here in this region. How important was this step for this program?
COACH BROWNELL: It’s a big step for our program. We haven’t been to the Sweet 16 in 21 years. And you know our university’s made a greater commitment to basketball. A couple of years ago we started fundraising soon after I got the job. And took us some time to get the money that we wanted and to get the support that we needed to change our facility and make the kind of adjustments that you have to have, provide facilities for your players. And we’ve done that now.
And then to follow that up with a really good season shortly thereafter and make a Sweet 16 really will help us to build our brand, sell our program to recruits and fans and make people more aware of Clemson basketball.
Obviously our football program is as good as any in the country. Our baseball program isn’t much behind. They obviously have Omaha on their hats for a reason because that’s the goal every year and often they get here. So basketball-wise, this was a big step for us.
Q. Just as far as getting to this point, did you see anything in this team early that gave you any hint that maybe they’d be able to do what they’ve done, like that Ohio State win early?
COACH BROWNELL: Yeah, actually I did. I told our staff, after we beat Florida down in Florida and we had beaten Ohio State at Ohio State that I thought we were Sweet 16 good. I really did. I thought — I believed in this team from the start, though.
And when we went to Spain on a foreign tour, I just left feeling unbelievably confident about our group because I loved our leadership. I loved the synergy and spirit of our team. And I knew we had good players. I knew our starting five were good players and would play well this season.
But then after we won at Ohio State and Florida, I told our staff I thought we were good enough to be in the Sweet 16 and maybe more. Now after Donte got hurt in our 19th game, you know, I don’t know if I felt that way. And maybe that’s why this is even sweeter is because our guys have really had to overcome significant adversity and we’ve had to make adjustments as a coaching staff here in the last month of the season. And to our kids’ credit, they’ve been extremely coachable and done the things we’ve asked them to do, and it’s resulted in us finishing tied for third in the ACC and making it to the Sweet 16.
Q. You mentioned earlier you kind of expect something from a Bill Self team offensively. Could you just take me through what you thought when you popped in the tape and saw what he was running this year?
COACH BROWNELL: I’ve seen them because they’re on TV so much. And again I watch games a lot. So I had seen them play multiple Big 12 games. I don’t sit there and watch from start to finish. But I’ll peek at games that interest me for 20, 30 minutes a night and just kind of follow some things.
And so I kind of had known that he was playing four guards and they were doing a mix of some dribble drive and some pick and roll and really spacing the floor. And I think it’s just really good stuff. He’s done a terrific job of figuring out the best way to use his personnel.
And right now I feel like they’re really clicking. They just look like, in the last couple of weeks, that they’re playing really high-level basketball.
Q. Can you highlight the matchup with the bigs — Thomas and your other guys off the bench versus Udoka Azubuike?
COACH BROWNELL: He’s obviously huge. And everybody you talk to about Kansas says wait until you see him in person. So we know he’s got great size, and he’s extremely competitive and physical. You see a very good competitive spirit in him in terms of how he plays and how physical he is. And if he gets the ball under the basket, you really can’t stop him.
We have to do a good job of trying, at least if he gets it, make it be six or eight feet away from the basket and make him make a bounce or two to try to make a play. Eli and Mark for us need to make him guard. We can’t just let him stand under the basket and dunk balls and not have to play defense. We’ve got to make him play defense as well.
But he’s obviously a big piece. And in his absence I think the other two guys did well. Obviously they’re good players too. Those guys can — they’re a little bit different. They’re not quite as big. But they both have other things they do well that are highlighted in Bill’s offense.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Student-athletes Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham are with us now. Questions?
Q. You got back from the initial round and campus was basically empty because you guys were on spring break. Coach Brownell said the other day it was kind of a shame, that he thought you all deserved some pats on the back from your fellow students. Do you share that sentiment?
GABE DEVOE: Yeah, I wish they would have been there. It would have been nice having the extra buzz around campus leading up to this weekend. But also I think it was good for us, like Coach said, no distractions. We were able to rest up and get ready for this week.
DONTE GRANTHAM: I agree with Gabe. I mean, I wish fans was there just to celebrate with them and just give us encouragement of our hard work. But I’m happy that they weren’t. We needed to rest that day and just get ready for this game coming up.
Q. Gabe, could you talk about the matchup of guards for each team that will be going at it? And for Donte, how has this team changed without you in the lineup?
GABE DEVOE: Yeah, Kansas has great guards on the perimeter. And it’s going to be a tough matchup for us. Just the main thing, limiting some of the 3s they get, just take away easy baskets.
DONTE GRANTHAM: I just think that guys got more confident to be honest. Guys had to step up like Aamir and Skara that played my position. And they really did that since I went out.
And guys like Gabe really stepped his game up and Marcquise. And I think our team’s confidence is at an all time high now. I think guys just stepped up and are being very confident offensively and defensively, and nothing can stop them, to be honest.
Q. Donte, can you speak to the feelings, the emotions that you have this week and through the tournament, just as a result of your situation and having to watch your team like this?
DONTE GRANTHAM: I mean, it’s hard. It’s one of the hardest things that I’ve been through. I mean, just to know that I’ve put in all the work in the offseason, really dedicated myself to getting better. And our team, to be honest, is really putting in the work and just us dreaming about being here and me dreaming about being here since I was young.
And just to go down with an injury my last year, it’s tough, but I don’t let it bother me that much. I have to stay with my team mentally. And you can’t take something back that already happened.
So I’m just looking forward, keep getting better, rehabbing myself. But I’m always going to be here for the team. But it’s very tough on me. Very tough. I love the game of basketball.