Nov. 10, 2011
CLEMSON, SC — Brad Brownell is excited about starting his second year as the men’s basketball coach at Clemson, but at the same time he is a little nervous, too.
The Tigers, who open the 2011-12 season Friday at Littlejohn Coliseum against Gardner-Webb, return six players from a team that went 22-12 a year ago and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That has Brownell feeling good, but then there is the unknown, which centers around six freshmen that will have to be productive if the Tigers want to get back to the Big Dance in March.
Brownell looked into the future in last week’s exhibition against Queens University (NC). In that game, all six freshmen played, with one, T.J. Sapp, starting, and another, K.J. McDaniels, playing 20 minutes.
“It was good for them to play the amount of minutes they did,” Brownell said. “Everybody got 15 plus so it was good for them to get a little bit of game experience. They all have certain strengths and things they do well, and then there are some things that are a real struggle for them.”
One thing Clemson could struggle with early on is finding a consistent rotation based on which of the freshmen are productive at certain times. In the exhibition game, it was McDaniels who showed off his talents. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound swingman scored nine points off the bench, while grabbing four rebounds, dishing out two assists and blocking a shot. Even better, he turned the ball over just one time.
“K.J. is a big-time athlete and with that kind of athleticism and energy, he is tough to guard,” senior Tanner Smith said. “He is going to attack the glass every time and spread the defense out with his athleticism. If he can do that for us, we can be a really good team.”
In addition to McDaniels and Sapp, the Tigers also got solid minutes from Bernard Sullivan, Devin Coleman and Rod Hall. At different points in the game, Brownell had all four of them in the game with one of his upperclassmen.
“We want to see if they will sink or swim a little bit on their own,” Brownell said. “They had to figure some things out on their own and not have Tanner and Andre (Young) helping. When Tanner and Andre are out there, they can just blend in and it doesn’t matter if they do anything.
“By putting them all out there together, they kind of have to figure out who is going to make a play. Who is going to talk and get us in a huddle? I’m having to tell them things… I’m just putting them in situations where they have to make decisions and learn to communicate.”
One thing the freshmen must do is play defense. In Brownell’s first year, the Tigers led the ACC in field goal percentage and scoring defense – two reasons why Clemson advanced to the NCAA Tournament for a fourth straight year.
“You win with defense, and certainly like most teams, we are ahead defensively right now,” Brownell said.
“Defensively, I thought we played well against Queens, and I think we need to continue to do that early on as our offense is trying to figure it out.”
As a freshman, McDaniels understands playing defense is how he and the others will see the floor.
“Defense is first,” the true freshman said. “Being able to come in and stop somebody from scoring is the key. The offense will come naturally, but you have to know how to play defense first.
“We understand in order for us to win, we have to play defense. Just being able to come in and play, help get a couple of big stops. That’s a big help and that’s what coach wants us to do.”
If the freshmen do that, it should take away some of Brownell’s anxiety.
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