Aug. 5, 2002
For the first time since his first season as head coach when he became just the fourth first-year ACC coach to win 20 games in his rookie season, Larry Shyatt has balance on his roster. Clemson’s 2002-03 club will feature a roster of five seniors, two juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen. Like that 1998-99 club, he also has balance on the court, as he has scoring potential inside and outside. Statistical balance is certainly important in this day and age of college basketball, but Shyatt centers on team balance in another area as being just as important. “We have balance in leadership entering this season and that is something we have lacked the last three years,” said Shyatt, who is in his eighth year at Clemson as an associate or head coach. “We have five seniors (Edward Scott, Ray Henderson, Thomas Nagys, Walker Holt, Jermel Douglas), and all five are on track to graduate. We have seniors in every area so there are leaders at each position. It is important for the young players to have someone at their position to serve as a guiding light. We have not had that the last three years with just one senior on the entire team each year.
“Certainly, two of the prime leaders will be Edward Scott at guard and Ray Henderson up front. They, along with Thomas Nagys, are four-year players who have logged a lot of playing time against ACC competition. Scott has a high level of respect after earning All-ACC honors last year and the same goes for Ray Henderson after finishing second in the league in rebounding.”
Shyatt hopes his personnel experience is finally ahead of the ACC curve. The Tigers have three returning starters, 10 returning lettermen and four talented and “experienced” freshmen on the club for 2002-03. The ACC just concluded a season in which it had the NCAA Champion (Maryland), the dominant #1 ranked team for most of the season (Duke), plus two other two other teams that were ranked throughout the season and won at least 21 games in Wake Forest and NC State.
The ACC returns just four of its top 21 scorers from last year. Two of the four are Clemson players Scott and Chris Hobbs. Only five of the top 13 rebounders return and two of those players are Tigers Henderson and Hobbs. Scott is one of just four players returning from among the 15 players who made the first, second or third-team All-ACC. Overall, Clemson returns 64 percent of its scoring, 78 percent of its rebounds, 72 percent of its assists, 90 percent of its blocked shots and 68 percent of its playing time from a year ago.
“When you look at the programs and their corresponding history in this conference you realize some programs are always going to be strong no matter what the experience level of their returning players. But, this year we enter the fray with as much experience, depth and leadership as we have had in the last four years. Hopefully that will translate into a continued improvement in the victory category and our goal of returning to postseason play.” In evaluating his prospects for the 2002-03 season, Shyatt feels an improvement from a defensive standpoint will be the biggest factor in reaching the postseason. Clemson was seventh in the ACC in scoring defense and last in three-point field goal percentage defense last season.
“Defense is the area that we need to show the most improvement. That said, defense is a function of maturity and intellect, and when you look at our roster we certainly should be improved in that area. Hopefully that will lead to an improvement defensively.
“The keys on defense will be the leadership shown by Scott and Henderson. The game starts with Edward’s defense and him making that a number-one priority in the preseason. His defense and intensity ,iust be contagious throughout the entire team. The same goes for Ray Henderson on the inside.”
While defense was an acknowledged weakness of the Tigers last year, rebounding was a team strength and that should be the case this coming season. Clemson led the conference in rebound margin with a +5.1 margin for the season, the third-best rebound margin in Clemson history. The Tigers also ranked second in the conference in offensive rebounding. Each of the top four post players return this season.
“Rebounding is a product of a team’s level of desire. We had that last year, we were out-rebounded just seven times in 30 games. We had as good a foursome of frontcourt rebounders as anyone in our league last year. We are happy to have all four back, plus the return of Steve Allen and the addition of Akin Akinbala. I think we can be excellent in this area of the game. Hopefully this group can convert free throws at a higher rate than they did last year. Had we made 70 percent of our free throws last year we would have made the postseason.”
The aformentioned word balance, this time in terms of scoring, should also be a hallmark of this year’s team. Clemson returns double digit scorers Scott (11.9) and Hobbs (11.6), plus Henderson (8.1), who is capable of reaching double figures.
“We have an outstanding leader of the offense in Edward Scott. He makes sure we have offensive balance in not only points, but shot attempts, free throws, half-court sets vs. fast break opportunities. We will continue to have balance and that will make us more difficult for the opposition when it comes to preparation.” With Scott running the attack last year, Clemson had four players average in double figures for the course of the season, a first for a Clemson team in 30 years.
The Schedule The schedule faced by the 2002-03 Tigers will be challenging. In addition to the 16 games against the nation’s top conference, Clemson will face Cincinnati, Penn State and South Carolina among its non-conference foes. Only Duke has been ranked number-one more often than Cincinnati over the last five years. Bob Huggins teams will travel to South Carolina to face the Tigers December 22 in a game that will be televised nationally by Fox Sports Net.
Due to significant renovations to Littlejohn Coliseum (including a new roof), Clemson will play at least its November and December “home games” at The Civic Center of Anderson in Anderson, SC, a facility that is about 25 miles from campus. The facility that holds close to 5,000 fans has been the site of the Big South Conference Tournament, Harlem Globetrotters exhibitions and some Clemson men’s and women’s exhibition games in the past. Littlejohn is expected to be ready for the January 5, 2003 game with Duke. If the facility is not ready in January, Clemson will continue to play in Anderson until the renovations are completed.
“We are excited about the renovations that will produce a “new” Littlejohn Coliseum,” said Shyatt. “The people in Anderson have been tremendous and we look forward to making The Civic Center of Anderson our home away from home. It actually should be an outstanding, intimate atmosphere for our team and our fans. It will be a challenge to basically play 30 games away from home, but we have a mature group of young men.”
BackcourtSecond-year team captain Edward Scott is not only the leader of the backcourt, but the leader of the entire team. A third-team All-ACC player a year ago, Scott is the best combination scorer and playmaker at Clemson since Chris Whitney (1991-93), who is entering his 10th year in the NBA. At times last year Scott’s simultaneous brilliance in both areas sent media to the Clemson and ACC record books to document his performance. His 30 points and 16 assists in Clemson’s incredible 118-115 double overtime victory over 17th-ranked Wake Forest marked just the second time in ACC history that a league player had at least 30 points and 15 assists in the same game. In the regular season home finale against Florida State he nearly recorded a triple double, as he stuffed the stat sheet with a career high 36 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. The point total was the highest by a Clemson point guard in 32 years.
For the year, Scott averaged 11.9 points and 7.93 assists per game. His assist average was the best in Clemson history and third-best in the nation during the 2001-02 season, just behind T.J. Ford of Texas and Steve Blake of Maryland. His 238 assists were a school record for a player who averaged at least 10 points per game. His 4.9 rebounds per game were the highest average by a Clemson point guard since the 1959-60 season.
“When you look at the list of returning players, Edward, Travis Watson of Virginia, Josh Howard of Wake Forest and Steve Blake of Maryland he would have to be considered one of the leading candidates for All-ACC honors,” said Shyatt. “They are the returning players who were ranked among the top 15 players last year. Edward makes a contribution in so many areas. Leadership is certainly significant. We hope his enthusiasm for all aspects of the game will spread through our entire team. We rely on him to do a lot for this team, but he welcomes the challenge.”
A prime candidate to be Scott’s runningmate in the backcourt is sophomore Chey Christie. As a freshman, Christie had flashes of brilliance, including a 21-point performance at #1 Duke in December that featured a 7-8 shooting performance. He also was a major factor with 16 points off the bench against Penn State in December. But, an ankle injury slowed him at midseason. He concluded the year averaging 5.3 points per game, sixth on the Clemson team, but he had a 7.8 scoring mean, including 11 at North Carolina in the regular season finale over the last seven games.
Shawan Robinson is one of four first-year freshmen who could have an impact on the 2002-03 Clemson team. Because of his versatility in the backcourt, where Clemson must replace 2001-02 double figure scorers Jamar McKnight and Tony Stockman, Robinson might have the best chance to make a strong contribution early in the year. “Shawan Robinson plays a vital role for us because of his ability to play both the point and the two-guard. He joins Chey Christie and Edward Scott as players with experience at both positions. Shawan is a player of high intellect, similar to the way Merl Code (point guard on 1996-97 Sweet 16 team) played for us in the past.”
Robinson, a native of Raleigh, NC, was an all-state player in North Carolina and averaged 24 points and five rebounds per game at Leesville Road High. He helped Leesville Road to the state championship as a junior. He is the son of a coach, always a good sign when it comes to fundamentals. His father, Darryl Robinson, is the head coach at Leesville Road. This past summer he was the MVP of the North Carolina High School All-Star game.
Walker Holt and Jermel Douglas are two seniors who have been a significant part of the Clemson program the last four years. Their leadership on and off the court will be an important ingredient in a successful 2003 campaign. Holt has played 41 games in his career, including a start in an ACC game at Maryland as a freshman. He has 40 points and 36 rebounds in his 239 career minutes as a Tiger. Douglas came back to the team last year after taking a year off to work on his engineering degree. He scored 11 points last year, hitting 4-6 shots from the field in 15 minutes of action.
Olu Babalola will be a challenger for playing time at the three-spot, but the 6-6, 245 pounder is also capable of playing on the inside. Babalola played in 23 games a year ago and scored 31 points. His defensive effort and overall hustle in limited action is an element Shyatt is looking for on a consistent basis from all of his players this year. He won the team’s Hustle Award a year ago.
Two newcomers will challenge for playing time on the wings this year. Ori Ichaki is a 6-5 native of Israel who was a summer signee, while Julian Betko is a 6′-5″ player from Pennsylvania. Ichaki averaged 17 points and four rebounds a game on a national team in Israel and at 21 brings international experience to the Clemson team. Betko made 58 percent of his three-point goals as a senior and averaged 22.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
“During the recruiting process, many coaches, including Roy Williams of Kansas, felt Julian was one of the top outside shooting prospects in the nation. Three-point shooting percentage has been an area we need to improve over the last couple of years. Ori, on the other hand, has a background of playing a physical game against older men in Europe. He should bring an aggressive defensive intensity to the position.”
Frontcourt The frontcourt should be an area of strength for Clemson in 2002-03. Strong rebounding numbers have been a hallmark of Larry Shyatt-coached teams. Two of the top three rebounding teams in Clemson history have been established under his watch and this year’s group could join the elite list in Clemson history. That is saying something when you look at the list of Clemson frontcourt players (Tree Rollins, Larry Nance, Dale Davis, Horace Grant, Elden Campbell, Sharone Wright) who have gone on to successful NBA careers.
Shyatt has a strong frontcourt combination in returning starters Ray Henderson and Chris Hobbs. Both enter the 2002-03 season ranked among the top 11 field goal percentage shooters in Clemson history, as both have shot at least 54 percent. Hobbs ranked fourth on the team in scoring as a sophomore with an 11.6 average, while Henderson was the ACC’s second leading rebounder with an 8.8 figure.
Both players have double-double potential. Henderson had nine last year to rank among the top five in the ACC in that category, while Hobbs has seven for his career, including a 24-point, 17-rebound game against 17th-ranked Wake Forest. Nicknamed “The Bruise Brothers” by Shyatt, the duo has combined for 871 rebounds and 1066 points on a career basis.
“We feel our frontcourt will not back down from any ACC team, or any team on our schedule. They have the experience and intellect to play with anyone from a strength standpoint. They have worked very hard in the off season to become even stronger. We didn’t rely on any one player offensively last year and that will be the case this year.
But, I do look for improvement from both Henderson and Hobbs because of their work ethic, including increased time in the off season working on free throw shooting. They showed improvement in that area last year, but they will shoot a high percentage of our free throws. If we can get them both to 70 percent at the foul line we will show improvement in the win-loss column.”
Hobbs made 54 percent of his field goal attempts as a sophomore and is now at 55 percent for his career (201-365). He is sixth on the all-time list, just behind Elden Campbell. Henderson stands at .539 for his career and has shot at least 52 percent in each of his first three years.
Thomas Nagys is a third experienced four-year player returning for the 2002-03 season. The 6-10 frontcourt player from Lithuania averaged 4.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last year and now has 315 points and 311 rebounds for his career entering this season. He is a veteran of 83 career games and over 1000 minutes in the ACC wars. The aggressive inside player draws a lot of fouls and is a 67 percent career free throw shooter. He ended last season on a high note with 18 points and nine rebounds in the ACC Tournament against Florida State.
Sharrod Ford is a precocious sophomore who also came on strong at the end of last year. In the final game of 2001-02, he had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the ACC Tournament against Florida State, the first Clemson freshman in seven years to record a double-double in the conference’s season ending affair. Ford set a Clemson record for field goal percentage by a freshman with a .606 mark. He made 23 of his last 34 field goal attempts. Ford concluded the year 4.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 14 minutes per game.
“Sharrod has spent a lot of time with our strength coach, Shannon Patterson, this past summer. He has put on 25 pounds and we hope he will be near 235 pounds by the time the season begins. When he adds that strength and learns to position himself under the basket, he will become a very valuable player in our rotation.”
Two other young frontcourt players will be factors for Clemson on the inside this season. Steve Allen is a 6-10, 255 pound center from Fort Lauderdale who saw limited playing time last year. He also also added strength and maturity in the offseason and should be a strong contributor this year. Freshman Akin Akinbala has the reputation of a shot blocker, giving Clemson a strong, young one-two punch on the inside with Ford, who ranked 15th in the ACC in blocked shots even though he did not average 15 minutes a game. Akinbala averaged 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks per game at The Brunswick School in Greenwich, CT last year.
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