Brownell explains how managing his team's mental health has never been tougher
Coaching college basketball is difficult in a normal year, but throw in a global pandemic, along with everything else going on in the world and trying to understand the mental makeup of a team is as challenging as it ever has been.
So far during the 2020-’21 season, Clemson head coach Brad Brownell and his staff have done a pretty good job of managing their team. The Tigers are off to a 9-1 start, which includes wins over Mississippi State, Purdue, Maryland, Alabama, Florida State, Miami and NC State.
They are also off to a 3-1 start in ACC play.
“You are trying to read your team and you are trying to read your players. Get a feel for them, talk to them, see what you think they need,” Brownell said on Friday as the 19th-ranked Tigers get set to play at North Carolina on Saturday (7 p.m.).
Before Thursday’s practice, Brownell could see questions and concerns on his players minds following the protests and riots that took place at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
“We talked about it briefly with our team yesterday morning. That put some stress and some thought into our guys heads that you could tell was weighing on them a little bit,” he said. “So, there are just a lot of things that are going on that these kids are seeing, dealing with and social media. So, just trying to have as good of a pulse with your team as you can.”
Earlier this year, prior to Christmas, Brownell could see his players were drained mentally. They had just lost a tough game at Virginia Tech. They were tired, not so much physically, but mentally from all the COVID testing and the day-to-day grind and protocols that have gone into trying to keep this season going.
Their game at South Carolina the following Saturday (Dec. 19) was postponed and has since been canceled. Brownell reached out to Morehead State, who the Tigers were supposed to play on Dec. 22 and asked them if they could move the game up a day.
To give his players an extra day off and send them home for Christmas.
“We were really tired mentally, as much as physically, at Christmas time. That is why we made the decision to let our guys go home,” Brownell said. “It was risky, but it proved to be good because we could really tell when our guys got back that they were refreshed and ready to go, and I think we have played that way.”
Since the Christmas break, Clemson has responded by beating then No.18 Florida State at Littlejohn Coliseum, went on the road to beat Miami by a point and then rallied to down NC State in overtime this past Tuesday back in Clemson.
“How do you manage that now? I don’t know. There is no play book for this. You are just kind of going by feel and, I think, just as much as anything you are trying to have tremendous relationships with your players, so you can get an idea of what is on their minds,” Brownell said. “There might be some things that you have not anticipated, and you are trying to keep your guys fresh physically and that can be challenging as you kind of get into the season.
“There are more bumps and bruises and wearing and tearing. That is what is hard about basketball. The highs and lows of these games are so … we have been fortunate that we won two … an overtime game and a late win on the road against Miami. The emotion that comes with that, you have to get geared back up in 48 to 72 hours and you better be ready to compete again, because you are in another one.”