Poor Clemson. For years they have been the stepchild of ACC basketball.
Long the most geographically remote program, they have struggled to find coaches
who wanted to be there and recruiting has never been easy. Now they have a
coach who wants to be nowhere else, the growth of the Carolinas has made it
easier to get from Clemson to the rest of the world, and while recruiting hasn't
gotten appreciably easier, the circumstances surrounding Clemson's recruiting
have gotten easier, even if the payoff hasn't come yet.
Unfortunately, despite the changing circumstances (which also include a
soon-to-be-renovated Littlejohn), the coach, who paid his own buyout at Wyoming,
hasn't seen the affection returned, and Clemson basketball continues to muddle
along in mediocrity.
There are some things which are in Clemson's immediate favor, however.
First, Clemson is solid at point guard, with Ed Scott quietly becoming one of
the best players in the conference and one of the better guards at
Clemson. He will be backed up by the underrated Shawan Robinson, a
freshman from Raleigh.
Chris Hobbs has established himself as a worthy ACC frontcourt player.
The buzz out of Clemson is that sophomore Sharrod Ford has emerged as a
superior big man. If so, this makes Clemson solid at three positions.
They'd be solid at four if Tony Stockman hadn't transferred, but on the other
hand, there were some signs that he had a negative effect on the team's
chemistry, as he could be a bit of a gunner. If Chey Christie is ready to
step up at this position, Clemson has a shot at a nice season. If he isn't ready
- and his shooting was dismal last year - perhaps Ori Ichaki, if he actually got
in, will help. A mature Israeli, Ichaki could help out, but he's not
listed on Clemson's official Web site.
Ray Henderson is also an effective frontcourt player and a solid rebounder.
We've never been big fans of Thomas Nagys, but he had his moments last
year. Reserves Olu Babalola, Steve Allen, Jermel Douglas, and Walker
Holt had minimal impact last season. Babalola is athletic enough to make a
Among the freshmen, 6-5 Julian Betko shot 58% from three point range as a
senior, and Akin Akinbala, a 6-9 Nigerian, gives the Tigers more athleticism.
Still, Larry Shyatt is one of only two ACC coaches on the hot seat (Matt
Doherty being the other, and he could change his status quickly). He has a
new A.D. to worry about/impress, and that could be really key. A new guy
would want to put his own stamp on things, and if Shyatt doesn't come through,
he may regret leaving Wyoming.
Give Shyatt credit though, he's a scrapper. Little-known fact: earlier
in his career, as an assistant, he irritated Larry Bird so severely that the
former Indiana State star came into the opponent's locker room looking for
Hardly anyone ever mentions this, which says a lot in and of itself, but
Larry Shyatt, who is Jewish, couldn't have coached at Clemson all that
long ago. Yet that has changed, and the sense of racism which pervaded
Clemson's image in earlier times has largely departed, and so you see a roster
with African-American kids from Maryland, Michigan, and Connecticut, along with
players from the Carolinas. You also see players from London and Nigeria
who are comfortable in Clemson. This is a big change: a few years ago, one
Duke player said he would only get off the bus in Clemson if it were at the
hotel or the gym.
In the long run, the things which have doomed Clemson to mediocrity are
changing. Is there enough to make a difference this season - in time to
save Larry Shyatt's job? That remains to be seen. But for Clemson,
the outlook is definitely improving.