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Brownell, Tigers Ready for Opener

Brownell, Tigers Ready for Opener

By Philip Sikes // Athletic Communications 

Brad Brownell knows his program won’t be able to use the element of surprise this season. Despite an 11th-place forecast by ACC media, Brownell returns four starters and a wealth of experience from a team that won 23 games, finished sixth in the ACC and advanced to the NIT semifinals in April.

“That (NIT) run was good for us,” he said Tuesday at his season-opening press conference. “We overachieved in the eyes of most people.”

The fifth-year coach of the Tigers hopes his team continues to overachieve. To do so, his team must answer some lingering questions as Clemson heads into Friday’s season opener against Florida A&M in Littlejohn Coliseum.

“Who’s going to score, and who will make plays late in games?” Brownell said, referencing the most pressing questions in his mind. “We need to see evolution in players like Jaron Blossomgame, Rod Hall, Landry Nnoko and Damarcus Harrison. It’s an exciting time as a coach because you’re anxious to see them put it together.”

Tiger fans got a glimpse of the 2014-15 men’s basketball squad Saturday in a 62-36 exhibition win over Division-II Anderson University. But starting Friday, every game counts.

For the fifth time in as many years, Brownell must replace the Tigers’ top scorer from the previous season. K.J. McDaniels, currently making waves as the top shot-blocking rookie in the NBA, departed after averaging over 17 points per game in a first-team All-ACC junior season.

“Most coaches would tell you they’d rather have one guy you can rely on, someone that can make a shot or make a play for a teammate,” Brownell said. “Having said that, there are advantages to having multiple guys make plays. We hope we have enough guys that are willing to do that in the last five minutes of games.”

Hall is the most obvious answer as Clemson’s go-to player in crunch time, but the experienced point guard’s game doesn’t always lend itself to a score-first mentality. He is Clemson’s leading returner in points and assists, but Brownell believes his team-first approach remains his biggest asset heading into his senior season.

“Fans don’t always see what he does,” Brownell said. “He and I were both criticized for him playing so much as a freshman and sophomore. Most probably thought he’d never be good enough to be a starter. But he obviously proved that wrong with his play last season. I appreciate his effort and the way he approaches his job.”

Next to Hall, look for returning starters Blossomgame, Harrison and Nnoko, and sixth man Jordan Roper to be asked to take the next step. Blossomgame showed a high activity level in the exhibition with nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds, while Nnoko returns as the ACC’s leading shot-blocker from 2013-14.

Donte Grantham got the first crack at McDaniels’ vacant starting spot at small forward in the exhibition. At 6-foot-8, the West Virginia freshman provides not only a size boost to the lineup, but also considerable skill. He’s been particularly pleasing to Brownell offensively, where his ability to pass has been an added value.

“The offense is good with him on the floor because of his vision and feel for the game,” Brownell said. “But he can certainly shoot the ball as well. He’ll have a chance to start Friday.”

Gates open at 6 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 1-800-CLEMSON and online at Friday has been designated Faculty & Staff Appreciation Night. University employees receive free admission with a valid ID, and can purchase additional tickets for family members for a special $5 rate.