CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Brad Brownell believes he’ll finally have a chance to build some continuity, and that the Tigers will rebound from their first losing season in nine years.
In each of Brownell’s previous three seasons, he’s dealt with a roster without its leading scorers from the year before. And that meant having to watch that year’s upperclassmen develop into the take-charge players the Tigers needed.
While that’s happening again with the departures of Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, who accounted for almost 24 points and 14 rebounds last season, Brownell said these Tigers don’t have any seniors, meaning that the team can set a foundation for the future.
“It’s something we haven’t felt like we’ve had here very much,” Brownell said. “Our best players have been our two older players almost every year I’ve been here, so you’re never bringing two of your best players from the year before. So, hopefully, that’s going to happen for us next year.”
Clemson, which relied heavily on Booker and Jennings, was last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring and 11th of 12 teams in shooting percentage last season. The Tigers lost 10 of their last 11 games to finish 13-18 overall, their first losing mark since 2003-04.
Brownell sees more depth and scoring punch in the backcourt now with sophomore guards Jordan Roper and Adonis Filer, plus the return from injury of Devin Coleman, perhaps the Tigers’ most promising freshman in 2011-12.
The forward spot is also bolstered by a player back from injury in 6-foot-7 Jaron Blossomgame, who was considered Clemson’s top prospect in the 2012 class.
Brownell said both players are healthy and ready to go when the Tigers open play Friday at home against Stetson.
Five Things to Watch for from Clemson’s basketball:
• K.J.’s Time. Clemson’s most dynamic player is junior K.J. McDaniels, a 6-foot-6 leaper who is the team’s only returning double-digit scorer (10.9 ppg) from last year. McDaniels is most effective on the run, something the Tigers couldn’t truly take advantage of last year because of a lack of front-court depth. Watch for Clemson’s guards to get the ball to a running McDaniels as often as possible.
• Front court. The loss of last year’s seniors (Booker and Jennings) will take some time to fully replace up front. Brownell tried to address that in recruiting, adding a pair of 6-10 players in Ibrahim Djambo and Sidy Djitte to go along with 6-foot-10 Landry Nnoko and 6-foot-8 Josh Smith. Djambo, though, is just 200 pounds and will need some seasoning to play down low in the super-sized ACC.
• Back court. Clemson’s biggest improvement should come at guard. Jordan Roper started 13 games as a freshman, led the Tigers with 41 3-pointers and was perhaps the team’s most consistent player down the stretch. Adonis Filer is a take-charge slasher who Brownell hopes becomes a finisher the Tigers haven’t had since Demontez Stitt led Clemson to the NCAA tournament in the coach’s first season. Rod Hall is the team’s point guard, yet must be less tentative in decision making. BYU transfer Demarcus Harrison has improved his shot and could be a bigger contributor in his second year at Clemson.
• Tough schedule. There might be few teams in the country with a road stretch as brutal as Clemson’s midway through the ACC season. From Jan. 21 through Feb. 11, the Tigers play five of six on the road including trips to all three of the ACC’s newest members. Clemson starts at Pittsburgh, then goes to North Carolina (where it’s 0-56 all time) and Florida State. After returning home to take on Georgia Tech, they’ll go to Syracuse and Notre Dame. Brownell wasn’t happy when he saw the schedule, but says the team will do its best to stay focused.
• Quick turnaround? New athletic director Dan Radakovich plans to spend about $80 million to rebuild Littlejohn Coliseum. That means putting a strong product on the court in a timely fashion to let boosters and donors know their funds are being well spent. Radakovich strongly backs Brownell, but with that comes the understanding Clemson will improve on the court.