Clemson AD believed in Brownell when a lot of others did not
OMAHA, Neb. — There is no one happier to see Brad Brownell and the Clemson basketball program play in tonight’s Midwest Regional Semifinal, against top seed Kansas, than Dan Radakovich.
Clemson’s athletic director stuck his own neck out on the line last year when he went against the popular consensus and retained Brownell as his head basketball coach. The result, a third place finish in the ACC and a berth in tonight’s Sweet 16 Round of the NCAA Tournament.
“If you are in the business long of enough, you know that if you get to the NCAA Tournament then a lot of different things can happen, some real good, some real bad,” Radakovich said to The Clemson Insider. “But getting to the NCAA Tournament, I felt like we could have an opportunity to make a run.”
The Tigers, the fifth seed, have not only made a run, they have waltz through the bracket to this point, beating both New Mexico State and Auburn by double digits in the first and second rounds last week in San Diego.
“They were probably the most impressive team, I felt like, in the first weekend,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “They had a really nice win against New Mexico State, but against Auburn, that was a different level that, I think, probably anybody played at last weekend.”
A lot of people were surprised to see Clemson do so well, especially after it beat Auburn by 31 points last Sunday in the second round. However, it did not surprise Radakovich.
“I’m happy for Brad and the players that we were able to win those two games in San Diego and get to this point. This is another one of those grand steps,” he said. “If we are able to move past these two, the stage gets even bigger … the Final Four.
“It has been incredibly positive. I’m just happy for these guys. They have worked incredibly hard.”
When Radakovich made his decision last March to bring Brownell back for another year, he knew he was going to take a little heat, but he understands that comes with the job. However, knowing and seeing things inside the program already and the culture that existed there, Radakovich was confident Brownell had the program going in the right direction.
“Our President, our Board, those are the folks I worry about, whether they think that I am doing a really good job,” he said. “I understand the fans are going to have their opinions and that is great, and we would not be in our business if they didn’t. But knowing what I knew, I was kind of locked and loaded on this decision and this one came up seven.”
Though Radakovich decided to retain Brownell there were still some things he wanted to see implemented into the program that could help the Tigers get to the next level. He and Brownell met for two and a half hours the Saturday of last year’s opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
In the meeting, the two outlined some things that needed to be done if the program wanted to continue to move forward.
“They have been well chronicled,” Radakovich said. “Bringing in Terrell McIntyre and doing some more work with outside basketball resources. To be able to look in and be able to help these young men, these guys are different than players ten to fifteen years ago. It just is. They grew up in a different generation. How do we connect those things?
“It was never a zone or man-to-man basketball stuff. Shoot, Brad has forgotten more about basketball than I will ever know. But it was more about how to create that chemistry and how to have those things happen. Luckily, we have a great group of young men who truly like one another, support one another and understand what the goals are. Brad has been able to communicate that and with the help of some other people they have reinforced his message.”
Radakovich’s decision to bring Brownell back last year came down to trust. In some cases, being patient, because he understood what was happening behind closed doors, pays off.
“There have been a couple of times, early on in Brad’s career where, I think for the first five years he was here, his leading scorer did not come back. He either graduated or left,” Radakovich said. “That is a hard thing to do, to keep starting over and those types of circumstances, especially in the league that we play in. It is not like we are in a YMCA League. The ACC is unforgiving.
“So there have been a couple of years in there where we did really well in the ACC, and I think a few years ago we probably should have made the NCAA Tournament, but it was a year when a lot of the at-large berths were taken up by teams that lost in conference tournaments so there was a short number of at-large bids so we just did not make the cut there. Then we went on that nice run in the NIT.
“But I think you have to look at the culture inside the program. He has been able to create an incredible positive culture inside the program. Things are working well, and now our challenge, because there is always a challenge, is to be able to build upon this. We have done the arena. We have done the practice facility. We have done some of the internal things. We have got to this point, so how are we going to continue to help sustain this?”