Clemson brought back the gold thanks to its willingness to adjust as a new team
Aamir Simms was not sure how Clemson was going to play at the World University Games.
They were an entirely different team since the 2018-’19 season ended in the spring. Starters like Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed, David Skara and Elijah Thomas were all gone. Two others transferred from the program.
The coaches brought in three freshmen and four transfers to replace them. Then forward Jonathan Baehre and guard Clyde Trapp tore their ACLs.
“That was kind of one of the scariest things I felt early on,” Simms said. “I was kind of nervous on how we would click as a team because we were practicing for six or seven weeks and it was kind of like pushed together because Tevin (Mack) did not get here until like two weeks before (we left). Al (Dawes) and Chase (Hunter) got here like two weeks later and it was all like chaotic getting everybody here on time.”
But the Tigers, who represented the United States, found a way through it all to come together. They went 6-0 at the World University Games, capping it off with an impressive 85-63 win over Ukraine in the gold-medal game.
“Great teams always find a way. You have to be connected and that is something Coach (Brad) Brownell always talks about in the locker room and in the film room, is being connected. Great teams are connected,” Simms said. “We all get along so well and we all have the same passion, which is on the court. We were all chasing one goal. So, all of us having that one mindset on what we wanted to accomplish kind of put us together faster.”
Clemson’s togetherness was obvious from the start. In their opening game, despite not playing well while adjusting to the rules of the international game, they still found a way to beat Finland in the first of many nail biters. The next game, they held on to beat Ukraine by a point and in the medal bracket tournament they got defensive stops late to beat Germany and Israel by two points each.
Four of the Tigers’ six wins were by four points or less, quite a contrast from last year when they were 3-7 in games decided by five points or less.
“That felt amazing. There was one game, I think against Germany,” Simms said. “Tevin had a chance to shoot it and he actually passed up a shot to Nick (Honor), who hit a big three and it gave us the lead by two or one, I can’t remember. But it was plays like that where you think this is going to be a good year.
“We have selfless players that are willing to make the extra pass and are willing to do whatever it takes to get a W. That is the thing I love most about this team. Everybody wants the same thing, and everybody is driven to get to that goal, and no one cares who is taking the last shot, who is getting the defensive rebound. That is just the best part. We are all connected and willing to do what it takes to help us win.”