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Clemson Basketball Outlook: 2001-2002

Clemson Basketball Outlook: 2001-2002

For the past few seasons, both Clemson and its opponents knew what to expect from the Tiger offense. If it wasn’t Will Solomon draining three pointers or driving from the outside, it was Adam Allenspach fighting for baskets on the inside. That inside and outside balance was what Coach Larry Shyatt was striving for each of the last two years.

But with the loss of both players to the professional ranks, Shyatt’s club will evolve from the star system to a more balanced approach. With the influx of five new freshmen combined with the maturation of the last year’s crop that featured two ACC All-Rookie team members the 2001-02 season will feature a fresh look and plenty of excitement.

“We have two different types of balance right now,” said Shyatt, who is entering his fourth season as Clemson head coach. “We have balance in terms of depth because we recruited to our needs. We have six players capable of playing inside, all of whom are healthy as we speak, and that is encouraging compared to the last two seasons. We have three primary ball handlers, which is important in our league. We have not had that luxury the last couple of years.

“Last but not least, we have better athletes. The only commodity we don’t have is experience. We can be more difficult to defend because we have more depth, more talent and the newest lineup in the league.”

Clemson opponents can discard their old scouting reports. Solomon had shouldered the offensive burned the last two seasons, averaging over 20 points per game for the two seasons combined. He set a Clemson record with 52 double figure scoring games in succession and was taken by the Grizzlies in the second round of the 2001 NBA Draft. He became the first Clemson player in 25 years to make first- or second-team All-ACC twice as an underclassman and was just the third player in school history to record over 500 points and 100 assists in the same season.

Allenspach was the only senior last season and provided the team with a big post presence for four years. He started off the season on a tear with six double-doubles in his first nine games and was leading the ACC in the category at Christmas time. But, an aggravating, recurring back ailment limited his play once the ACC schedule began.

“We were all very hopeful last season that we would balance in our game, and we had that for the first 10 games when Adam was healthy. There’s no question that with the addition of five new players and a roster with eight first or second-year players, we enter enter the fall practice not knowing who to rely on in certain situations. But, we have some talented young me who are eager to fill our rolls.

Replacing the mainstays of the past few seasons will be difficult, but Shyatt’s team will begin by building on the momentum of last year’s stretch run. Three starters and nine lettermen return from a squad that upset #1 ranked North Carolina in late February, then downed Florida State in the ACC Tournament.

The cast of returners is led by junior point guard Ed Scott, who started every game last season and played exactly 1000 minutes. Sophomores Tony Stockman and Chris Hobbs will take on increased responsibility this season. The duo was named to the ACC All-Freshman team, the first time Clemson has ever had two selections in the same year. Clemson was the only team with two representatives on that team. Sophomore Dwon Clifton and Jamar McKnight, the only senior on the club, will give the team experienced athletic wing players. Juniors Tomas Nagys and Ray Henderson will anchor the interior along with Hobbs.

Much of the buzz about the 2001-02 season stems from Shyatt’s five-man recruiting class that has been rated among the nation’s best by many experts. The freshman class bolsters the team’s depth as well as upgrading its athleticism.

“It’s a class that has been ranked among the top 15 in the nation. Hopefully it is a group that will soon make a difference in our program and move us to the upper echelon of the ACC.. That will take a combination of both their improvement and, of course, some of the better, older players in our league moving on.”

The incoming freshmen are big men Steve Allen, Sharrod Christie and Olu Babalola and guard/forwards Chey Christie and Jemere Hendrix. It is the largest incoming class at Clemson since the 1995-96 season, a year that included the debut of Terrell McIntyre, Tom Wideman, Harold Jamison, Andrius Jurkunas and Tony Christie, Chey’s older brother. That class led the Tigers to three NCAA Tournament berths, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 1997.

“They have a distinct advantage to any Clemson freshmen in that they were here most of the summer. They attended classes and that should help them with their confidence when the fall begins. There won’t be as big an adjustment period in the classroom and on the court.”

Two players in the group standout. Chey Christie and Sharrod Ford both played for the United States team in the Global Games in Dallas, TX in July. Christie averaged 15 points a game, shot 61 percent on three-point shots and made the all-tournament team. Ford shot 75 percent from the field, best on the United States team.

The team will need contributions from everyone to compete in the always-tough ACC. Duke and Maryland will look to repeat their Final Four seasons with most of their rosters intact. The team will also face stiff non-conference competition including a visit to Penn State, a Sweet 16 team last season, SEC rival South Carolina, and a trip to the Virgin Islands to play in a six-team, three-game tournament prior to Thanksgiving.

“The ACC will once again be the strongest conference in the country. Five different teams were ranked at different times last year and two made it to the Final Four. Duke and Maryland should be top five teams all year. We’ve had back-to-back recriting classes that give us the opportunity to compete in this league. There is no question that our freshman and sophomore classes can compete with the other freshman and sophomore classes in the ACC and the country. We have some recognized rising stars on this team.

The depth at Shyatt’s disposal will once again allow the Tigers to focus on an up tempo attack. The Clemson offense set school records for made three-point field goals in a season (248) and per game (8.0) while averaging 74.1 points per game, the most since 1993-94. The Tigers scored 80 points or more 11 times last season, including 108 in a non-overtime game against Georgia Tech.

“I think it’s the most exciting team we’ve had since the McIntyre-Wideman-Christie-Jurkunas-Jamison era because you’ve got a whole group that fans will be able to follow for the next four years. If I was a marketing expert, I would probably think this would be the absolute best time to market Clemson basketball, not only because of the significant youth and excitement and talent of the younger players, but also because of the development of a world class annex, the new Littlejohn Coliseum. I hope it is the beginning of a new basketball movement at Clemson University.”

Backcourt The leader of the Clemson backcourt will be 6-0 point guard Ed Scott. The team’s primary ballhandler bounced back from an injury-plagued freshman campaign to lead the Tigers in durability last season. His ability to distribute the ball as well as defend the great point guards of the ACC will be counted on again this season. He led Clemson in assists last season and averaged one turnover every 13.5 minutes, the fifth best ratio for a point guard in school history. At one stretch he also made 23 consecutive free throws, the longest streak by a Clemson player since 1984.

“This team is looking for a leader and for somebody who has experienced the ups and downs, who’s overcome obstacles and in particular has shown a work ethic in the classroom and on the court these last few years. Edward Scott fits that description.”

Joining Scott in the backcourt will be Tony Stockman, a sophomore from Ohio who has dazzled fans at times with his shooting and passing ability. Although he has completed just one season, Stockman will always be remembered by Tiger fans for a late-game three-point shot that virtually clinched the victory over #1 ranked North Carolina last February.

“You live and die with instincts. And probably what many of the fans in the country, specifically Tiger fans, found out last year is that in the next three years he will take the big shot. Tony Stockman has great basketball instincts and really plays to a very high level. He is an outstanding shooter and distributor of the basketball. Most of all, he loves to play the game.

Stockman was second on the team behind Will Solomon in points per game (12.0) and three-point field goals made (75) last season. He led all ACC freshmen in scoring, the first Tiger to do so since 1974-75. He showed his quick hands on the defensive end by leading the Tigers in steals (44). He also led the Tigers in free throw shooting with a .836 mark, the third-best figure for a freshman in school history.

“He can be our go-to guy, but that doesn’t mean just the last two minutes or with less than 10 seconds left on the clock. He definitely has a quick trigger in terms of how quickly he can get his shot off. And he can score in bunches which is a great sign for a young guard.”

Clemson will have the luxury of a third ballhandler thanks to the addition of Chey Christie. As a junior, Christie averaged 25.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game at Biloxi High School in Biloxi, MS., while shooting 55 percent from the field and 78 percent from the foul line. He enhanced those statistics to over 26 points a game as a senior when he was ranked among the top 50 players in the nation by most services.

“He really gives us two assets we haven’t had,” said Shyatt. “He gives us a little more size in the backcourt, and he also gives us athleticism, He is capable of a 360- or a lob dunk, someone who can rebound and start a break. Although he’s thinner than a spoon, down the road, he can probably add as much to the backcourt at Clemson as anybody has in the recent basketball history.”

This year’s team also has a number of players that can play in both the frontcourt and the backcourt. Among them is 6-5 sophomore Dwon Clifton, who started 17 of the last 18 games of the 2000-01 season. His development and experience garnered at the end of last season should pay dividends this year. His best game of the year came at Virginia when he collected 10 points and three steals and he averaged 3,9 points for the 31 games last season.

Senior Jamar McKnight provided the Littlejohn faithful with some high-flying dunks as a transfer from Northwest Community College in Mississippi last year. He was especially effective in the win over North Carolina when he had eight points in just 17 minutes off the bench. McKnight looks to follow a pattern of previous Clemson junior college transfers who have made dramatic improvements from their first year to their second. Walker Holt has earned a scholarship each of the last two seasons and should provide depth in the backcourt, as should walk-on two-year letterman Jermel Douglas.

Frontcourt The Tigers had to take a frontcourt-by-committee approach last year playing without an injured Adam Allenspach for much of the season. One of the most dangerous Tigers down low is Chris Hobbs, who had an outstanding freshman campaign. The Chapel Hill, NC, native became the first Tiger since Dale Davis in 1987-88 to lead ACC freshmen in rebounding. He averaged a rebound every three minutes he was on the floor, second only to Tree Rollins among freshmen in Clemson history.

Hobbs was far from one-dimensional, as evidenced by a .566 field goal shooting percentage. The mark broke Elden Campbell’s 14-year freshman record. He also had six double-doubles last season and scored 28-points at home against Virginia, the most points scored by a freshman frontcourt player since the 1982-83 season. He averaged 7.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the season.

“If there’s a player that has a chance to unravel and burst on the national scene its Chris,” said Shyatt. “Whether he will or will not will be decided by Chris himself.” Shyatt is hopeful the experience of an ACC season will aid the development of Hobbs, who fouled out of 10 contests last year. The 6-7, 265 pound forward will also have the benefit of being fully healthy in the offseason after tearing his ACL his senior year in high school.

“The only thing he lacked last year besides experience was being in top condition following his ACL surgery and that’s understandable,” said Shyatt. “But as the season wore on he got better and better physically and he had a very productive summer. He has one of the highest intellects on our basketball team.

Joining Hobbs in the post area will be 6-8 junior Ray Henderson. Despite battling injuries his first two seasons, Henderson has shown a consistent ability to score in the post thanks to a plethora of one-on-one moves. He averaged 5.4 points and 4.8 rebounds a game last year while leading the team in dunks.

“Ray Henderson has gone down from 288 to 260,” said Shyatt with a smile. “He’s had a very profitable summer, especially in the classroom earning hours, where he is on schedule to graduate. Medically, it’s been far improved. It’s been a year since the surgery. There’s still pain in the knee, but far less than he’s endured during career at Clemson.”

The most improved Tiger and one of the most improved in the ACC over the course of last season was Tomas Nagys. Over the last 10 games of the season, the 6-10 forward improved his field goal percentage from 25.8 to 46.6 percent, his scoring average from 1.8 points per game to 7.1 and his rebounding average from 3.2 to 5.7 boards per game. He also stepped up as a defensive presence and led the team in blocks.

“Tomas was named our most improved player by a unanimous vote,” said Shyatt. “He seemingly came to life in that North Carolina game at home and from that point had a much higher level of confidence in his offensive skills. But it was on defense and perhaps his ability to control his emotions better that probably made the difference the last eight or 10 games. Tomas was in double figures and showed the ability to rebound in some key situations.

Clemson will definitely need contributions from its rookie class in the frontcourt. One of those players is Sharrod Ford, an inside player at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, VA. The 6-9, 210-pound forward shot blocker who played his high school basketball at Gwynn Park High in Brandywine, MD, shot 58 percent from the field, averaged 15.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game last year. He also blocked 6.6 shots per game, including a season high of 11 in one game.

“Sharrod Ford is probably the best athlete inside that we have recruited in the last decade,” said Shyatt. “He runs, jumps and blocks shots, as well if not better than anybody we’ve had in the last decade. Durability, physicality and a defensive understanding are three areas that obviously will be important for his growth. With Hobbs, Nagys and Henderson there everyday in practice I’m just confident he can learn from our more experienced players “One of our weaknesses this year probably will be individual defense simply because we have a young team. But, someone like Sharrod Ford can make a difference. He definitely can get up high on the square and has very good timing. It’ll be interesting to see as we will try to run every bit as much, if not more than last year. Hopefully his play on defense will lead to some easy scores at the other end.”

Adding strength down low will be Olu Babalola, a native of London, England, who played at St. Augustine Prep in Richland, NJ last year. He averaged 18.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. He shot 58 percent from the field and averaged 2.8 rebounds a game. He was a third-team All-State selection in New Jersey last year.

“Olu Babolola reminds you of a Harold Jamison physically. Learning to finish around the basket and really learning the game are two of his most important areas of growth for Olu. He did not start playing the game until he was 14. In terms of physical ability, he is another player that will be fun to watch. He was on his high school track team last year and can run a 10.9 100-meters at 6-6 and 270 pounds. He can dunk the ball with ease lefty and righty and he really handles the ball quite well in traffic.

Shyatt made a late addition to the class when he signed Jemere Hendrix, a 6-8, 215-pound forward from Covington, GA. He played his high school basketball at East Side High School and averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per contest. He also blocked three shots per game and helped his team to the second round of the state championship tournament.

“Jemere Hendrix has been the big surprise this summer, somewhat of a unknown commodity who had originally signed at Notre Dame last fall. “This summer all reports are he is probably our top athlete from coast to coast, a guy who can rebound and bring it, handle the ball quite well for a large player and also quite capable of hitting the three. He really is a multi-dimensional athlete, someone that can be a really exciting player to watch and develop.

“When the game becomes a halfcourt contest, he will have to learn the tricks of the trade inside, so to speak. He and Babolola, can become a five-three kind of player, somebody capable of playing both inside and out, similar to the way Iker Iturbe and Greg Buckner played for us five years ago.

Freshman center Steve Allen will vie for playing time at the center spot this season. The 6-10, 235-pounder averaged 12.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game at Dillard High School. He shot 59 percent from the floor and 72 percent from the free throw line. He was a first-team All-County, All-Conference and an honorable mention All-State selection last year. Allen once scored 21 points in a game and has game highs of 16 rebounds and six blocks.

“Steve is a strong player on the inside. I know I am making a lot of comparisons to the freshmen of the fall of 1995, but he reminds me of Tom Wideman. He should really help our rebounding and interior defense during his four years at Clemson.”

Shyatt realizes this is a young team, but it can be the start of something big. “This is a group of young players that should have lofty goals during the seasons ahead. An upper division finish, a trip to the NCAAs, the Sweet 16 and hopefully a Final Four can be attained by this program in the years to come.”