CLEMSON – Driving around town on Friday, I tuned into some Upstate sports radio to hear many a caller discontented with Clemson’s men’s basketball program.
I imagine the same folks who once grew frustrated with Oliver Purnell’s full-court-pressure scheme not producing results in the postseason, were now those longing for his and its return.
Part of me does believe Purnell’s philosophy was a great fit for Clemson as the Tigers will always be out-manned and out-talented in the ACC, particularly with the forthcoming additions of Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Press basketball is the guerrilla warfare of basketball as Malcolm Gladwell wrote back in 2009.
But to this scribe, it’s way too early to be losing patience with Brad Brownell.
We know Brownell can coach. He took over a team that lost a signature player in Trevor Booker and led it to the NCAA Tournament – with his half-court style – in his first year at Clemson. We know he can develop players. He took Jerai Grant, Demontez Stitt and Bobo Baciu’s production to new levels.
Whether he should employ more Purnell-like pressure defensive schemes, Clemson has had some success with the press in limited time this year, can be rightfully debated, but don’t forget just how big of a rebuilding project this is. (Hey, it could be worse Clemson could be Wake Forest.)
In the long-term, the big questions is will Brownell bring in good enough players. Clemson is never going to consistently recruit elite basketball talents. The question is can Brownell bring in good enough players and develop them. There is reason for both optimism – Jaron Blossomgame, KJ McDaniels, Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper are all promising – and pessimism (see: the front court next season and continued shooting woes) on this front.
I had a reader ask me why Clemson can’t be like Miami.
Well, Clemson could be Miami in several years. What Miami has is experienced, talented guards in players like Durand Scott. Clemson does not.
The one-and-done rule hurts college basketball as a whole but it gives teams like Clemson a chance to compete at a high level once every three or four years when it can put an experienced team on the court. For Clemson that will not be this year or even next year, but it could come in 2014-15.
You’re going to have to be patient with Brad Brownell. If you are, it could be worth the wait.
STARTING FIVE THOUGHTS …
1. Jordan Roper looks like a miniature Ray Allen from his mannerisms, to his facial likeness, down to his smooth shooting stroke.
Now Allen, was a once-in-a-generation shooter, and Roper is not that kind of talent. But he is a player who can shoot, exactly the type of skill Clemson so desperately needs. Roper made his first career ACC start on Sunday and responded with a career-best 17 points on 6 of 14 shooting (3 of 4 shooting from 3). He’s also become a better defender, he was great lurking in the passing lanes Sunday, registering three steals. He’s ahead of where Andre Young was a freshman and I think he has more natural off the dribble scoring skills than Young. He’s a flawed player because he’s undersized, but he might deserve to start the remainder of this season. (If he can get a little stronger I’d like to see him get a chance at playing some point guard).
2. Everyone knew Scott Wood was going to get the ball on N.C. State’s last possession. Brownell said he told his players that in the huddle just that, and their defense was designed to stop him. Somehow Wood got loose, but give Wood some credit as Brownell has called him the best shooter in the ACC. Wood not only has range and a quick release, but he also has 6-foot-6 size. So even if a Clemson defender had not got erased in a screen, Wood would still likely have been able to get a shot off. Clemson needs to find its Wood, its Gordon Hayward.
3. Once again free throw shooting haunted Clemson. Milton Jennings missed the first of a one-on-one opportunity that could have extended Clemson’s lead to three or four-points before Wood’s shot. Again, I don’t think you can really develop free throw shooters — you have to find them. Clemson has to do a better job in this area on the recruiting trail.
4. Teams are getting better and better at denying Devin Booker (10 points, six rebounds) the ball. N.C. State was better at pressuring the ball Sunday than it was in a close call earlier this year in Raleigh when Booker had a breakout performance. After an impressive opening to ACC play when Booker was averaging 15 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game, his numbers have really tailed off.
5. K.J. McDaniels made five blocks and had a highlight-worthy dunk. But to really be an asset playing a wing position, he has to become a more efficient scorer. His jumper has made dramatic strides, but needs to take it to another level of efficiency this offseason