Clemson's Achilles Heel lately has been foul shooting, and arguably, that kept them from winning their first ACC title last March when they missed 12 out of 26 and lost to UNC by five. It was, at worst, Clemson's second best team in the modern era and arguably as tough as the 1990 team which lost in the NCAAs to UConn.
The Tigers lose James Mays, Cliff Hammonds and Sam Perry, and all of them are major losses, though you wouldn't necessarily see it statistically.Â Mays keyed their press; Perry was a fine stopper, and Hammonds was a superb leader.Â He was also in the finest tradition of the ACC student-athlete, not far behind guys like the Buckley brothers, Tom McMillen, Todd Fuller, or Shane Battier.Â He brought his best to everything he did (free throws excluded), and Clemson really benefited from his presence.Â And as for Mays,Â he endured more injuries last season than anyone should ever have to, and still kept going.Â What can you say about a guy like that?
They're all gone, but Oliver Purnell has put Clemson in a different orbit, and they'll survive the loss of an excellent senior class.
They return a solid core of players, starting with an excellent backcourt.Â K.C. Rivers considered going pro but decided to bring his 14.7 ppg and 6.3 boards back.Â Clemson got brilliant play out of freshmen Demontez Stitt, who showed immense promise as a point guard, and Terrence Oglesby, a kid who can shoot from anywhere, and will, without hesitation.Â Heâs not quite J.J. Redick, but he has his confidence.
Clemson is set in the backcourt, and they have some other options, too, which we'll come back to.
At center, Trevor Booker is only 6-7, but he's intimidating.Â A superb shotblocker, Booker is aÂ force to be reckoned with.
He'll get help from Jerai Grant, who showed some potential as freshman.Â Karolis Petrukonis, who didn't play much but who is 6'11" and 260 and who should be able to find some minutes if he improves.
They also will have freshman Catalin Baciu, who is 7'0" and 225, and who is said to be pretty quick for a big guy, possibly quick enough to take over James Mays spot at the back of the press.
Clemson also returns 6'9" Raymond Sikes, who has become a reliable though not hugely gifted big man.
The Tigers will also be fairly athletic on the wings.Â Rivers can play there at times, although he gives up size defensively.Â David Potter is a solid athlete and a guy who Clemson can rely on.
They also bring in 6'6" freshman Bryan Narcisse.Â He originally signed with Western Kentucky but dropped them after the coach moved on.Â He's potentially a great fit for Clemson:Â although he's 6'6", he's athletic, and his wingspan is about seven feet, which would make him a tremendous guy at the back of the press.
Tanner Smith is a 6'5" utility guy who Purnell will be able to put in for different situational needs.Â Purnell says he can just make plays, which is maybe a way of saying he just plays the game well.
Andre Young is only 5'9", but he's highly effective, he's tough, and he can shoot, having won the 3-point contest at the Capital Classic.
All of these guys should help Clemson defensively, and all of them should also help the Tigers become more versatile.
Clemson is in something of an unusual position because while they bring back a solid core of players, they've added players who could significantly change things.Â For instance, if Baciu turns out to be good enough to start, then Booker could slide over to his natural position of forward.Â Whoever starts up front with Booker - Baciu, Grant, Narcisse, Potter - it'll be a pretty quick group.
Narcisse, as mentioned could step into Mays' old role.Â So, too, could Baciu, if he's quick enough.Â And the other freshmen will help the Purnell Press, too:Â a speedy 5'9" guard like Young in a press is a pain because the whole thing is designed to force the offense into bad decisions.
Or Clemson could go with a purely pressing unit:Â with say Stitt, Rivers, Potter, Booker, and Narcisse (or mix and match with Grant and Young), the Tigers would be able to drive most anyone crazy.
They also have the potential to go big.Â With Baciu, Booker, and either Sykes or Grant, they could present challenges that way.
And they have some shooters now, with Oglesby, Young, Smith, and Rivers.
In short, this promises to be a versatile unit, capable of matching up with anyone.
And a bonus:Â with Hammonds (.459), Mays (.549), and Perry (.667) gone, only Grant is a truly horrid free throw shooter (.375), but he was a freshman.Â They usually get better.
Of the returnees, Stitt and Oglesby are terrific at .851 and .761 respectively.Â Potter checks in at .733, with Booker and Sykes bringing up the rear at .573 and .500.
Other than Grant, of course.
The freshmen promise to improve things further.Â If they do, and Clemson's defense can stay roughly where it was last year, the Tigers won't slip much if at all. Clemson fans should enjoy this season a great deal.