New coach, new blood, new year. With the combination of head coach Amanda Butler, her experienced coaching staff and a blend of old and new talent, the Tigers look to start this new era of Clemson women’s basketball on a high note, potentially surprising some people along the way.
“We are excited to see how high the ceiling of this team is and see how it all unfolds and evolves,” said Butler. “It is a team that has some surprising potential and, if we can sustain the work and energy that we have, then it is going to be a fun and rewarding season.”
Butler enters the 2018-19 season with a collection of unique and talented players. Clemson will need this year’s crop of seniors to step up and provide leadership following the loss of senior Ivy Atkism and amidst the transition between coaching staffs.
“We have four seniors and I hope that we allow them to have a senior year that they feel really good about,” said Butler “I hope they have a senior year that is a great example for our juniors and sophomores and freshmen of what success looks like as a senior.”
Steady leadership and communication are key as the Tigers compete against some of the best programs in the country. The 2018-19 slate features 11 NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago, highlighted by reigning National Champion, Notre Dame.
Clemson competes in the always-stacked Atlantic Coast Conference, a league that featured eight 20-win teams in 2017-18 and two Final Four programs (Louisville and Notre Dame). The ACC produces perennial National Championship contenders as an ACC team has appeared in the National Championship game in seven of the last eight seasons.
Clemson returns seven players from a season ago, while adding six newcomers – three freshmen and three transfers – to round out the roster of 13.
Clemson is deepest at the guard position and Butler prides herself on having a guard group that is extremely versatile and can play almost anywhere on the court. The point guard unit is a highlight of this year’s team, led by senior Danielle Edwards, who returns as the floor general for her senior season. Edwards started all 30 games for Clemson a season ago and averaged 9.2 points per game.
The Tigers shored up at the point guard position during the offseason with the addition of Simone Westbrook and Camreé Clegg. Westbrook, a graduate transfer from Florida, is a huge asset for Clemson as she is the only Current Tiger have previously played for Coach Butler.
Clegg, along with redshirt junior Keniece Purvis, provide additional depth for the Tigers at the point, allowing Butler to make quick, impactful substitutions.
“There is a lot of versatility in that they are not solely point guards and can be on the floor together,” said Butler. They are shooters and there is a tremendous amount of experience in the point guard group.
Clemson is fortunate to have both experience and an influx of talent at the wings this season. Upperclassmen Aliyah Collier and Chyna Cotton lend experience to the position, while sophomore Destiny Thomas adds another dimension to the Tigers’ shooting game.
Butler picked up a dynamic 3-point shooter in Kendall Spray during the offseason, but the deep threat will have to sit out this season due to transfer rules.
“We have really good size and versatility in the guard group with people who can just as easily play the four as they can the three or the two,” Butler said. “There is a lot of speed in the unit and a lot of confidence in the open court with the ball.”
The height on the team displays itself at the post position, led by the leading scorer from last season, Kobi Thornton. The junior averaged 11.1 points per game and shot a team-best .428 from the field in 2017-18.
Thornton, along with newcomers Taylor Hosendove and Skylar Blackstock provide a versatility at the four-spot, which is imperative in a Butler-style offense that runs a lot of plays through the power forwards. The skill and combination-type play from the posts allows the Tigers to take advantage of mismatches in the paint.
“They have the ability to be a threat from the 3-point line, but the more threatening aspect of their play is their ability to be fantastic perimeter rebounders,” said Butler. “The speed they offer in transition and the defensive potential of the group gives us a great advantage.”
Up-and-comer Tylar Bennett and transfer Mikayla Hayes dominate the paint for Clemson in the traditional center position. Bennett, one of the most improved players from a season ago, according to Butler, was a constant presence on the court for the Tigers during the 2017-18 season.
“Our fives have to be our communication anchors on defense and really establish our presence in the paint on both ends of the floor,” said Butler. “It’s a really dynamic group that can very effectively run the floor and play the game well with their backs to the basket.”
With players like Edwards and Thornton, much of this team’s identity is rooted in the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers ranked fifth in the ACC in both scoring defense and field goal percentage defense during the 2017-18 season, holding opponents to an average of 60.3 points per game.
Thornton led Clemson in blocked shots, averaging 1.7 blocks per game (fifth in the ACC), while Edwards tallied 2.6 steals per game, good for second in the ACC. The point guard also posted nine steals against South Carolina State, an ACC record last season and earned All-ACC Defensive Team honors.
Transfer Westbrook will add to the Tigers’ defensive scheme as she was an All-SEC Defensive Team selection while playing at Florida.
With a new team and a new system, Butler and the Tigers are somewhat of an unknown commodity in the ACC, with the capability to surprise people. With the goal of being the more aggressive, more competitive team on the court, Butler instills a ‘go until you’re stopped’ mentality in the team that should translate into a more successful season.
“I want to reflect back on a year that we are proud of and that can be an indication of how good we can be in the future.”