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No. 22 Clemson start year ranked with high expectations

By PETE IACOBELLIOctober 26, 2018
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FILE - In this March 22, 2018, file photo ,Clemson head coach Brad Brownell watches his team during practice at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Omaha, Neb. Brownell enjoyed a school record 11 Atlantic Coast Conference wins, a run to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 and new contract extension tying him to the Tigers through 2024. Security is nice, but Brownell wants to keep producing success on the court. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File
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FILE - In this March 22, 2018, file photo ,Clemson head coach Brad Brownell watches his team during practice at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Omaha, Neb. Brownell enjoyed a school record 11 Atlantic Coast Conference wins, a run to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 and new contract extension tying him to the Tigers through 2024. Security is nice, but Brownell wants to keep producing success on the court. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson had plenty of surprises for opponents last season on the way to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

The 22nd-ranked Tigers won’t surprise anyone this year with four returning starters and expectations to go even further in the NCAAs than last year.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell, who heard the chatter about his job security last year, said his team won’t worry about the positive expectations any more than the negative ones of the past.

“Last year, there was a lot of talk about things surrounding our program and we didn’t worry about it,” Brownell said. “I told our team when we met for the first time this year, the same is true now.”

The Tigers put together a stellar season, going 25-10, winning a school record 11 Atlantic Coast Conference games and reaching the NCAA’s round of 16 for the first time since 1997. The bulk of that team is back this fall after exploring their pro prospects last spring.

Clemson’s starting backcourt of Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell each went through the draft process before choosing to return for a final, senior season.

Starting forward Elijah Thomas did not get that far, the team’s top rebounder and force underneath he’d come back.

The oddest situation was with senior David Skara, a native of Croatia who said goodbye to the Tigers in April with plans to play pro ball in his home country. But Brownell got a call this summer telling him Skara changed his mind.

After asking the players, Skara was welcomed back to make the Tigers one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s most experienced teams entering the season.

Bad vibes, good vibes, outside voices — none of it, Brownell said, has an impact on success or failure.

“How we work, how we prepare, the amount of togetherness that we show and how much we really care about one another is what’s most important,” Brownell said.

Some other things to know about Clemson entering the season:

STICKING AROUND

Clemson coach Brad Brownell got a new, six-year contract that pays him $15 million through the 2023-24 season. If Brownell, entering his ninth season, makes it to the end, he will be Clemson’s longest serving basketball coach.

SIMMS TIME

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said forward Aamir Simms was the player who made the most strides in the offseason. He was a backup until starting forward Dontae Grantham went down with a season-ending knee injury last January. Simms, a 6-7 sophomore, has a high-flying streak like past Clemson standouts — and all-ACC first teamers — under Brownell in KJ McDaniels and Jaron Blossomgame.

TRANSFERS

Clemson picked up a pair of tall transfers, one who can help immediately and the other who’ll sit a year. The Tigers secured Javan White, a 6-10 grad transfer from Oral Roberts who also looked at LSU. Coming next year is 6-10 Jonathan Baehre who spent the past two years at UNC Asheville.

HEY, AREN’T YOU?

Clemson’s roster includes freshman Parker Fox, the 6-6 son of former Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox. The Tigers could play the Bulldogs as part of a November tournament in the Cayman Islands.

SCHEDULE

The Tigers will play Nebraska at home, Mississippi State in Brooklyn, New York, and at state rival South Carolina. That is only appetizer for Clemson’s daunting start to ACC play where it will go to Duke and Syracuse for its first two league games before returning home to take on Virginia.

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