Clemson left Italy as a group of strangers, but will come back as a team
Before Clemson left on its trip to Italy to play in the World University Games, Brad Brownell was just glad to have the opportunity for his young team to play.
After losing four starters to graduation and then two of his best players returning to injury, the Tigers needed the experience of playing in the international games. They are a new team, and a relatively young one at that, with an average age of 19 years old.
Of course, the head coach wanted to win, too. But the main thing was the experience of playing together. They needed every game after having less than a month to practice as a complete team before leaving for the World University Games in Italy on June 28.
Well, Brownell’s team got the experience it needed on its international journey, but it also found gold waiting for them at the end.
The Tigers, who represented the United States in the World University Games, won the Gold Medal Thursday following an 85-63 rout of Ukraine in the Gold Medal Game at Palasport Del Mauro in Avellino, Italy.
Clemson posted a perfect 6-0 record in bringing back the Gold Medal to the United States.
“The best thing about (the trip) is at the beginning of next year we will have game footage and experience and we will kind of know where guys are a little bit,” Brownell said on June 27, two days before the team left for Italy. “Who needs to work on what and maybe we will know a little bit more about what guys play better together.
“So, it is certainly a good advantage for us to utilize this time and certainly something I know we all look forward to.”
The Tigers came together and played their best game at the World University Games in the Gold Medal Game. Led by John Newman’s 20 points and seven rebounds and Aamir Simms’ 12 points and six rebounds they rolled to their easiest victory of the event.
After falling behind 6-0 at the start of the game, the Tigers went on a 16-2 run to grab control of the game and never trailed again. They led by as many as 27 points in the Gold Medal Game.
Clemson won four of its six games by four points or less, including a one-point win over this same Ukraine team in the preliminary round last week. But there was no drama in Thursday’s Gold Medal Game.
The Tigers dominated the Ukraine team in every facet. They shot 43 percent overall from the field, made seven three-pointers, forced 14 turnovers, including seven steals, and outrebounded them 42-36.
In all, 10 players scored, while six players scored at least eight points. Center Trey Jemison had his best game with 11 points and six rebounds, while Hunter Tyson and Al-Amir Dawes added eight points and Tevin Mack and Khavon Moore contributed with six.
It was a total team-win, as were the previous five wins leading up to the Gold Medal Game, which was Brownell’s objective from the beginning.
This was Clemson’s third summer trip overseas since 2013. The Tigers went 4-0 in a trip to Italy in 2013 and then 3-1 during their trip to Spain two years ago. Both instances led to postseason success the following season.
The 2013-’14 team went 23-13 overall and advanced to the NIT Final Four. In 2017-’18 season, Clemson posted a 25-10 record, finished tied for third in the ACC and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, the program’s deepest run in the NCAAs since the 1996-’97 season.
However, this trip was different. Clemson was going over not to just play and see the sights, they wanted to win and represent the United States the best way they could.
Well, they did just that and came together as a team, too.
—photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications