By Philip Sikes // Athletic Communications
Note: This is the fourth and final installment in a series of articles looking at the offseason focus for Clemson’s men’s basketball players.
Few folks in Clemson had a busier summer than Jaron Blossomgame.
He seemingly spent more time in airports than he did on Clemson’s campus, traveling from city to city either auditioning for NBA teams or attending high-profile camps.
Most Tiger fans are probably okay with his busy schedule, because on May 25 the first-team All-ACC forward announced he would be returning to school for the 2016-17 season after a serious flirtation with early entry into the NBA Draft.
Blossomgame took part in the NBA Draft Combine, in addition to working out for seven teams prior to letting the college basketball world know of his intentions in a formal press conference.
After putting himself in position to be drafted following the heels of a breakout junior season, Blossomgame’s decision to ultimately return to Clemson came down to his desire to finish what he started.
“I’ve shown I can put up big numbers, but I really haven’t shown that I can win consistently,” he admitted. “That’s the main goal, and it’s the biggest step for me.”
Blossomgame took a giant leap forward as a junior, becoming one of the ACC’s best and brightest stars while averaging nearly 19 points per game. His well-rounded improvement was on display throughout the 2015-16 campaign when he became the first Tiger in history to shoot at least 50 percent overall, 40 percent from three and 75 percent at the free throw line in the same season.
But the 6-foot-7 athlete and his coaches believe he can take his game to another level. As he alluded to, Blossomgame has yet to experience the thrill of the NCAA Tournament. He was close as a freshman, starting on the 2013-14 group that won 23 games and wound up in New York City for the NIT semifinals. He has helped the Tigers to 10 ACC wins in two of his three seasons, but it only left him wanting more.
Following his decision to return, he earned a pair of prestigious camp invitations, competing at the Nike Basketball Academy and adidas Nations over the course of a calendar week at the end of July.
“The camps solidified everything I’ve been working toward this summer,” Blossomgame said. “The camps were really fun; it was good to go up against some of the best guys in the country.”
Blossomgame lined up against several NBA stars — including former Kentucky standouts Devin Booker and Julius Randle — at the Nike camp. His experience in Los Angeles also included an extensive film session with LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player on the planet.
“It was a lot like the pre-draft combine,” he said. “A lot of NBA personnel were there. Nike had a section marked off for scouts and executives. It offered more exposure.”
After returning to Clemson for good and graduating with a sociology degree on August 5, Blossomgame turned 100 percent of his focus to the upcoming season with his Tiger teammates.
One of the aspects of his game NBA personnel identified as a point of emphasis is his ability to facilitate for teammates. Blossomgame’s goal as a senior is to raise his assist total and lower his amount of turnovers.
“He needs to be a better playmaker for others,” said assistant coach Steve Smith, who works with the Tiger wing players. “He will command a lot of attention, just like last year. So he’ll have to be better at helping make plays for other guys. We stress those things to him daily. It will make him better, and make our team better.”
The coaching staff has also challenged Blossomgame to become a better leader, one who not only leads by example, but also one who challenges his teammates vocally.
Smith said he’s already seen strides through several team bonding exercises this fall.
“We did a conditioning ladder on the football field the other day, and it was tough,” Smith said. “We did what equates to 15 court lengths of running, and we were trying to make it on time. We had to fight through it. Jaron’s out there pushing guys. I saw him grab Legend (Robertin) by the waist and try to pull him through the last 10 yards.
“So that’s what the message from everyone has been, to take the next step as a leader. He’s been pretty consistent with everything we’ve done, whether it’s conditioning, workouts or whatever the case may be. He takes care of his business, so we want him to take more pride in leading the guys. And now we’re starting to hear his voice more.”
One thing Blossomgame has been vocal about this offseason is the potential that lies ahead for the 2016-17 team.
“It’s the most talented team I’ve been on,” he said. “Guys are really embracing this preseason, and believe we can be good. We are very confident heading into practice, and just have to put it all together.”
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