Originally created 12/16/05

Tigers taking success in stride



CLEMSON, S.C. - It's a common sight, the veteran basketball coach dousing his players' exuberance.

A week ago, Oliver Purnell was ready to do it - but he didn't have to.

Minutes after his Clemson team held off East Tennessee State and improved to 8-0 entering a 10-day final exam break, Purnell readied himself to warn the Tigers against overconfidence.

He quickly realized it wasn't there. And that made Purnell one happy coach.

"I told the players after the game that where I come from, people get pretty excited about 8-0," Purnell said. "It's a good thing they weren't that excited."

Consider it a sign this Clemson team is ready to tap its potential - and perhaps make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in eight seasons.

The Tigers could enter a Jan. 11 showdown with Wake Forest with a 15-0 record.

Clemson hasn't started 9-0 since 2002-03. The best start in school history is 17-0, which happened in 1986-87.

The next test starts Monday, when Clemson tips off the San Juan Shootout against homestanding Puerto Rico-Mayaguez in San Juan.

Balance and excellent defense have keyed the hot start. Seven players average at least 7.4 points per game, and the Tigers' leading scorer - senior guard Shawan Robinson - averages only 12.8. What's more, he's the sixth man.

Clemson has forced 172 turnovers (21.5 per game) while committing only 127, meaning it forces roughly six more turnovers than it commits per game.

Vernon Hamilton is emerging as the sparkplug. He averages 11.8 points, and his 4.3 assists and 3.1 steals per game lead the team.

MORRIS' SUSPENSION REDUCED: Kentucky center Randolph Morris' seasonlong suspension for his attempt to enter the NBA Draft was reduced to 14 games Thursday by the NCAA.

The NCAA cited new information provided by the school for softening its punishment after Morris went undrafted.

A fax that Morris sent to Kentucky coach Tubby Smith on May 9 indicated Morris' ''clear intent to retain his collegiate eligibility while declaring for the NBA draft,'' the NCAA said in a statement.

Morris, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, also must repay expenses related to the tryouts - which amounted to more than $7,000 from nine NBA teams, the NCAA said.

Morris will regain his eligibility just when No. 23 Kentucky opens Southeastern Conference play.

Scott Stricklin, an assistant athletic director for media relations at Kentucky, said Morris can resume playing for the Wildcats on Jan. 10 against Vanderbilt in Rupp Arena.