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Gober On Clemson!

Toward the end of the 2004-2005 season, Coach Oliver Purnell was able to show the ACC that he can get his Clemson Tigers
(+2.7 ppg, +2.0 rpg, +1.5 apg, 5.3 bpg, 44.2% fg, 33% 3-fg, 6.1 3-fg made/g, 60.1% ft, +11 ft attempts, +71 blocks, +2.3 b/g, +18 steals, +0.6 s/g, -1.0 to/g, 0.8 a/t, opponents: 43.5% fg, 36.6% 3-fg, 5.8 3-fg made/g, 0.7 a/t)

to play with the tenacity and hustle that his Dayton Flyers teams always displayed. Those Dayton teams led by Coach Purnell that fared surprisingly well against teams from the power conferences were frequently undersized in those match-ups, so that Dayton experience should help Coach Purnell prepare for the 2005-2006 ACC season.

Gone is the all-everything player for the Tigers, 6-9 departed senior C Sharrod Ford (15.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 0.4 a/t, 51.3% fg, 58.6% ft, 3rd Team All-ACC, Honorable Mention All-ACC Defensive Team). Last season, Ford particularly enjoyed making turtle soup out of the Terrapins in Clemson’s 3 wins against Maryland (55 points and 28 rebounds), so the Terps surely must be glad Ford used up his eligibility.

Ford led the Tigers in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots and was Clemson’s only All-ACC caliber player. The only aspect of Ford’s game that never improved during his Tiger career was his shooting from the foul line; however, Ford was an average free-throw shooter by Clemson standards on a team that averaged a horrendous 60.1% from the charity stripe as a team.

A less significant loss for the Tigers is 6-6 departed senior WF Olu Babalola (6.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.6 a/t, 36.6% fg, 25.4% 3-fg, 69.7% ft). Though Babalola certainly had the muscle to help on the boards, he chose instead to float to the perimeter and prove to European professional team scouts that he absolutely cannot shoot accurately from outside. In many respects, Babalola was a player who refused to sacrifice his vision of himself as a perimeter player for his team that could have used his power inside, and Babalola, consequently, will not be missed as much as some observers might suggest.

With Ford leading the way, Clemson was able to finish just ahead of FSU and Virginia in the ACC standings and was certainly the equal of Virginia Tech and Miami despite finishing behind those teams in the ACC standings. Without Ford, Clemson is a better bet to finish last in the ACC standings than to make progress toward the middle of the ACC standings, but the Tigers may put a quick and athletic team on the floor like the Dayton Flyers used to do and surprise some of their competition.

The obvious strength of Clemson is at the guard position, with 6-3 soph 2G Cliff Hammonds (10.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.5 a/t, 42.4% fg, 35% 3-fg, 65% ft, All-ACC Freshman Team, Honorable Mention Freshman All-American), 6-2 senior 2G Shawan Robinson (10.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1 spg, 1.2 a/t, 40.9% fg, 40.4% 3-fg, 83.7% ft, 2nd Team All-ACC Tournament Team), and 6-0 junior PG Vernon Hamilton (6.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.1 spg, 1.0 a/t, 42.1% fg, 25% 3-fg, 60.8% ft) returning to provide experience and depth.

With the addition of 6-0 redshirt freshman PG Troy Mathis (Prep Stars # 84) and 6-5 freshman 2G KC Rivers (Prep Stars # 70), Clemson has quality and depth at both guard positions.

Hammonds was one of the biggest surprises in the ACC last season, leading Clemson in minutes played and breaking the all-time Clemson record for most starts by a freshman. A high school class valedictorian, Hammonds showed Coach Purnell that he has a solid understanding of the game combined with surprisingly developed basketball skills. Although Hammonds is more of a 2G than a PG,
he led Clemson with a 1.5 assists-to-turnovers ratio and was second only to Virginia’s Sean Singletary among rising sophomores still in the ACC in votes for the All-ACC Freshman Team.

Sharing the PG duties with Hammonds was Hamilton, who had a less impressive assists-to-turnovers ratio of 1.0. As the season progressed though, Hamilton appeared to have learned that his strength is his power and quickness. As a former football star, Hamilton can drive to the basket and finish against tough inside players, and Hamilton’s quickness made him the Clemson leader in steals by far.

Robinson, Hammonds and Hamilton shared ball-handling and passing duties for the Tigers, but Robinson was recognized as the best perimeter threat by hitting 40.4% of his threes. In making the All-ACC Tournament Team, Robinson scored 41 points in 2 games and made 9 of 12 3-point field goal attempts.

Though the three returning guards can fill the PG and 2G positions well for Clemson, PG Mathis and 2G Rivers will push for playing time and are good enough to start as freshmen.

Mathis is an explosive scorer and quick ball-handler who adds speed and athleticism to the guard mix. Rivers provides size and scoring potential at 2G after having recovered fully from a broken ankle that limited his opportunity to play during his high school senior season.

At wing forward, Clemson returns 6-6 soph WF Cheyenne Moore (6.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.9 a/t, 35.7% fg, 28.9% 3-fg, 85.7% ft) and 6-5 soph WF Sam Perry (4.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.7 a/t, 48% fg, 0% 3-fg, 47.5% ft).

Though Moore did not have a good year shooting the ball from the field, he showed from the charity stripe that he has the potential to shoot the ball especially well. On the other hand, Perry showed that his contributions will come from his outstanding athletic talent and high energy play at both ends of the court. Guarding 6-8 All-ACC WF Nik Caner-Medley in 3 Clemson wins over Maryland last season, Perry receives much credit for holding Caner-Medley in check.

The combination of Moore and Perry at WF makes Clemson relatively solid at that position, just as Clemson is solid at both guard positions.

The big question for Clemson, however, will be who replaces Sharrod “In Rod We Trust” Ford inside. The candidates include 6-9 soph PF James Mays (4.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1 spg, 0.3 a/t, 47.2% fg, 100% 3-fg (1 for 1), 42.5% ft), 6-9 senior PF Akin Akingbala (5.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1 bpg, 0.4 a/t, 59.2% fg, 0% 3-fg, 52% ft), 6-7 freshman PF Julius Powell (Prep Stars # 113), 6-9 freshman PF Raymond Sykes (Prep Stars # 239), and 6-10 senior C Steve Allen (0.9 ppg, 1 rpg, 63 min., 64.3% fg, 0% ft).

From this group, Mays is the probable starter at PF. Mays should be an adequate ACC starting PF, but he will need to add strength and improve his shot.

Akingbala may start out of necessity with so few inside options, since he is the best returning rebounder and shot-blocker for Clemson following Ford’s departure.

The only other candidate to start is Powell, who has the potential to provide rebounding and scoring.

Sykes needs to develop his skinny body, and Allen has seen very few minutes of playing time during his days at Clemson.

With the loss of Sharrod Ford, Clemson cannot expect to be as good as it was last season. On the other hand, the Tigers have increased depth at guard and increased experience at WF and an excitement around the program.

Utilizing those players, Clemson can put an extremely quick and athletic, though small, lineup on the court and excel in games played at an up-tempo pace. Though the inside players for the Tigers are unproven, Mays and Powell have the potential to develop into solid ACC players. Miami, Virginia Tech and Clemson each suffered the loss of a key player (Frisby-MI, Dixon-VT, Ford-CU), but, unfortunately for the Tigers, the player losses appear likely to have increasing significance to their teams in that order.

Consequently, Clemson is not a good bet to catch the Canes and Hokies this season. Instead, the Tigers probably will need to focus on their battle against the Noles and Hoos for a finish above somebody in the lower half of the bottom half of the ACC standings.