CLEMSON, S.C. - Andre Young and his Clemson classmates quickly learned their freshman experience would be vastly different from many in college basketball.
"Coaches told us from our style of play we're going to need eight to 10 guys to come out and really play well,'" Young said.
That meant not sitting at the end of the bench awaiting garbage time in a blowout or getting ground down in practice with little opportunity to play. Clemson coach Oliver Purnell told them early on, they'd play and they better be ready to contribute.
So far, so good.
Young, along with fellow freshmen Tanner Smith and Bryan Narcisse, have regularly rotated in and out of the lineup, giving a lift to the undefeated, 12th-ranked, 15-0 Tigers.
Few schools rely on youth the way the Tigers do this season. Six of the team's 10 regulars are underclassmen: Sophomores Demontez Stitt and Terrence Oglesby start while second-year forward Jerai Grant comes off the bench. All are expected to power Clemson's pressure defense and fast-paced attack.
None of them is one-and-done, NBA draftees to be. All have bought in to Purnell's idea of sacrifice for team goals.
"We decided we were going to take that role and we were going to play hard," Young said.
All the newest Tigers made strong contributions in a 66-59 victory over Alabama on Tuesday night that kept the team among three Division I unbeatens.
Young played 16 minutes at point guard and had two critical second half 3-pointers as Clemson rallied past the Crimson Tide. Smith went 3 of 5 from the field with five rebounds in 13 minutes.
Narcisse saw the least action with 6 minutes. Still, he had 2 rebounds and battled strongly against Alabama's tallest players for space.
Clemson won 10 games in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season, its most in 18 years. It reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade, but it lost three key seniors in Cliff Hammonds, James Mays and Sam Perry.
Somebody had to step up if Clemson wanted to keep improving, Purnell said. That meant on-the-bench training wasn't in the cards.
"For us to be good, they are going to have to play a role that is significant. They have to be there in crunch minutes because they're fresh," Purnell said.
The coach isn't afraid to call on his newbies.
The 6-foot-5 Smith and 5-9 Young are among the first off the bench. Narcisse, a skinny 6-6, is used more sparingly behind starting forwards Trevor Booker, Raymond Sykes and backup Grant.
The group's made an impression on the Tigers.
"Tanner goes in there and, man, he plays hard," said Oglesby, Clemson's long-distance shooter. "And Andre comes in and he's reliable. The other day (in a win over South Carolina), he had eight assists and just one turnover. He's safe and stable and a teammate we can rely on."
Young, Smith and Narcisse were all part of Clemson's 17-1 second half run that turned a nailbiter into a blowout.
Young had both his 3-pointers in that stretch while Smith had two rebounds. All three threw themselves into Clemson's swamping defense, which left Alabama 0-for-12 from the field during the Tigers' spurt.
Oglesby remembers his learning curve from a year ago when the long-range shooter struggled at times on defense and with his shot selection - mostly letting it go from far behind the 3-point line before working the ball into the middle as Purnell prefers.
Clemson has stayed perfect, a testament to how quickly the freshmen have improved.
"It's a pride thing just to be undefeated," Oglesby said. "We're going to come out and play hard every night."
That means everyone, said senior captain and leading scorer K.C. Rivers. He said he's glad the freshmen have melded so well with the program.
"They love being led. They love being taught. They listen and they're well coached," he said. "I love those guys."