Clemson, coach Brad Brownell looking for more after NCAA run
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Brad Brownell believes neither he nor his team is satisfied with their major accomplishments from a year ago.
The Tigers were 25-11 last season, matching their best-ever win total. Their 11 Atlantic Coast Conference wins were also a school record and Clemson returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Brownell’s first season in 2010-11.
“There are a lot of positive things going on in the program,” Brownell said Wednesday.
Perhaps the most positive development was Clemson’s core players that had the chance to give up remaining eligibility decided to return to school. Leading scorer Marcquise Reed and point guard Shelton Mitchell explored the NBA draft before returning. Elijah Thomas, the 6-foot-9 forward who led Clemson in rebounds and blocked shots, decided early that he wanted another year.
Reserve forward David Skara, the Tigers’ best defender last year, stunned Brownell when he wanted to go back to play professionally in his home country of Croatia last April. Skara floored his coach once more in August with his choice to rejoin Clemson.
It all makes for a veteran group eager to improve on its third-place finish in the ACC and move beyond the Sweet 16.
“These are guys that are proven players who have been in our system,” Brownell said. “And I think they’re still pretty hungry and that’s what’s really important.”
Brownell’s seat was very warm when last season began, a popular pick among some analysts as a coach in need of a big year to keep his job.
The Tigers delivered in a major way. Their splashiest feat may have been an 84-53 victory over Auburn NCAA’s round of 32. Clemson hung tough in the following game before falling to No. 1 seed Kansas 80-76.
Brownell received a six-year, $15 million contract that ties him to Clemson through 2024.
Brownell sees confidence, not cockiness entering this year, which gives him hope for another big year.
“Human nature is that we all our foot off the gas a little bit when we experience some success in life. We get patted on the back a lot, feel good about ourselves,” the ninth-year coach said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with our older players about that. But I don’t see that in them right now. They’ve been pretty focused.”
Brownell understands he easily could’ve watched all four of his seniors depart and is committed to making their final year in college a memorable one.
“I think they have things they want to do in this game and they know that they need to have productive senior years to try and help reach those goals,” he said.
Clemson assistant coach Steve Smith said the team’s steady rise and Brownell’s stability has opened recruiting doors for the Tigers. Clemson was a finalist for Spartanburg, South Carolina star Zion Williamson before he signed with Duke.
Smith said Clemson’s next step is to land such a difference maker and show that players can been productive playing with the Tigers and reach their goals of playing professional basketball.
“We’re getting in places where we haven’t been,” Smith said.
Clemson added six newcomers to the roster, including 6-10 forwards Javan White and Jonathan Baehre.
White is a graduate transfer from Oral Roberts who is eligible to play this season. Baehre started 21 games at UNC Asheville last season and must sit out this year due to NCAA transfer rules.
The Tigers also bring in 6-11 freshman Trey Jemison, who was recruited by Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M among others before choosing Clemson.
Brownell always believed given time, he could make the Tigers contenders in the ACC. Now, he’s got the players who believe it, too.
“I’m excited to see their games develop this year,” the coach said.
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