Note: The following appears in the Louisville gameday football program
If you walk around Littlejohn Coliseum these days, there is a completely different feeling around the men’s basketball program heading into the 2018-19 campaign compared to the one a season ago.
Fresh off a run to the Sweet 16, the program’s fourth in its history, last year proved to be a banner campaign for the Tigers. The 2018-19 team looks to continue that success of making a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.
In March, Elijah Thomas announced that he was returning for his senior season. Then in May, Shelton Mitchell, Marcquise Reed and David Skara all earned their undergraduate diplomas. Mitchell and Reed tested the NBA waters, while Skara announced his decision to pursue professional opportunities overseas.
On May 30, both Mitchell and Reed withdrew their names from the NBA draft and announced their intention to return to the Tigers in 2018-19. Skara also made the commitment to return and was officially back on the roster on Aug. 22.
After those decisions, Clemson had brought back its leading scorer, leading rebounder, three double-digit scorers and best defender.
The four making the decision to return to Clemson said so much about where the Tiger basketball culture currently sits with head coach Brad Brownell at the helm. It is a culture of commitment which goes hand-in-hand with its brand of “Clemson Grit,” passion and perseverance toward a long-term goal.
Last season, the Tigers faced a different set of challenges after being picked to finish 13th in the 15-team ACC in the preseason. Clemson tied for third in the final standings, which was the largest differential from a preseason poll to the final conference ranking in league history.
Replacing the leadership of 2017-18 seniors Donte Grantham and Gabe DeVoe will not be easy when the regular season begins on Tuesday when the Tigers host The Citadel.
The Tigers were ranked in several preseason top-25 polls in October. The last time Clemson began a season in the top 25 was 1997-98, when the Tigers were as high as No. 5 in the AP poll.
Clemson boasts one of the most experienced teams in its history. It has never had four graduates (including graduate transfer Javan White) on the same roster. Mitchell, Reed and Skara are all fifth-year seniors, and walk-on Lyles Davis is another returning senior who enters his fourth season with the program. This team boasts the 10th-most career points scored (3,981) in the country by active players.
The combination of Mitchell and Reed not only gives Clemson the most experienced backcourt in the ACC and one of the most experienced in the nation in terms of games and postseason play, but also two players who have been through the grind of an ACC schedule.
Mitchell originally committed to play at Wake Forest and later signed with Vanderbilt before transferring to Clemson prior to the 2015-16 season. Reed started his career at Robert Morris, scoring 500 points as a freshman and playing in the NCAA Tournament. He came to Clemson at the same time as Mitchell.
Mitchell and Reed combined for 28.0 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game and 235 of the Tigers’ 463 assists last season. Reed earned Second-Team All-ACC honors as well.
Skara played his first minutes for Clemson last season and was a big boost in the starting lineup and off the bench. Skara is the Tigers’ best on-ball defender and can defend multiple positions, ranging from an opposing point guard to a center.
The first-ever Texas native to play in a Clemson uniform, Thomas proved to be a force last season, leading the team in blocks (79) and rebounds per game (8.1) while averaging double-figure points (10.7). He also earned All-ACC Defensive team honors.