There's no question that Clemson lost a lot from last season. K.C. Rivers, who we always felt was underrated, is gone, as is Raymond Sikes, who proved to be a fairly good player by the end of his career, although not a great one. But we never expected him to do much and he ended up doing okay. And then in the summer, somewhat shockingly, Terrence Oglesby called and said he was leaving to play pro ball in Europe.
He said it was to help prepare him for his NBA career. It was always a long shot and more of one now. He did average 24.4 ppg for Norway (his mother is Norwegian) in the FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship. He's now with an Italian team.
To make matters worse, Trevor Booker has a foot injury. It's not clear how serious it is or how long it might keep him out, but any way you look at it, it's not good. Booker has been a superb presence inside for Clemson and is one of the best big men in the conference, arguably the best.
And yet all is not lost for the Tigers.
True, they come into the season having to replace Rivers, with a possible hole at center, and a dearth of returning outside shooters. But this team could still be pretty good, and if Booker is okay, possibly very good.
Oglesby's range is a big loss, but they may have replaced it with a surprising late recruit: Noel Johnson originally signed with USC, but bailed on the Trojans after the program imploded.
After Oglesby left, coach Oliver Purnell groused some about his lack of notice, but then brightened up when he realized that Oglesby took his lack of defense with him. His final game at Clemson was a pathetic on-court meltdown in the NCAA Tournament which saw him ejected after throwing an elbow at Michigan's Stu Douglass.
Yes, he can shoot, but big deal. They'll get over his loss. Johnson certainly has more potential defensively than Oglesby, and since Clemson likes to build off defense, that's a fair trade in our opinion.
The Tigers return Demontez Stitt at point, and he has proven to be a reasonable ACC guard. Moreover, just about everyone lost theirs. He'll be one of the better points in the ACC and one of the more experienced, too.
They also return David Potter, Bryan Narcisse, Tanner Smith, Zavier Anderson, Jerai Grant, and Andre Young. That's not a bad core defensively, particularly with Booker. But the freshmen are going to add a lot.
Start with the next Booker, Devin, who is slightly taller than Trevor and reportedly just as athletic. We've already discussed Johnson. Donte Hill is another solid athlete, a guy who can add to the perimeter pressure. And then there's the prize of the class, 6-9 Milton Jennings.
We first got intrigued by Jennings when we read a complete rave on the kid by Jay Bilas, who was obviously quite impressed. It was from this article. The kid has not only overcome a lot but he's shown a lot of intelligence and grit in doing so. He's already one of our favorite ACC players just because of his ability to rise above circumstance, and he's going to be a force.
Like Johnson, he'll inject some outside shooting. We suspect he'll also inject some leadership.
There's also one potential surprise lurking on the roster: 7-2 Catalin Bacu, who didn't play much last year, has some nice potential. It's always hard to say how much someone will improve, and there's a forest of ACC trees who were supposed to become great but never made it. Clemson will be hurting without T. Booker, to be sure, but if either D. Booker or Catu can come through, they won't fall too far. Trevor is a great player, but 7-2 is 7-2, and if Catu can pair some bulk with his agility, that'll be nice.
It'll be interesting to see who they put at the front of the press. In some ways Narcisse is the logical candidate - he's 6-6 with about a 7' wingspan and can run. Or it could be Potter or Grant or even Jennings, although the guy in that spot typically doesn't have a lot of offensive responsibilities. Or they could just rotate guys in and out, given their depth and athleticism. It could even be the younger Booker.
A lot has changed under Oliver Purnell, but one thing that hasn't changed enough is being more aggressive with the schedule. Clemson does play in the 76 Classic, which will have Butler, Long Beach State, Minnesota, Portland, Texas A&M, UCLA, and West by God Virginia. If they win that, that's pretty impressive.
And they do have Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Otherwise, it's the same crap as usual: Presbyterian, Liberty on the road, which is a bit of a surprise, UNCG, Winthrop, South Carolina, Furman, ECU, Charleston, Western Carolina, and South Carolina State.
UNCG is on the road, but everyone wants them as a road game this year because their home games are in the Coliseum and it's useful prep work for the ACC Tourney, back in Greensboro where it belongs.
Assume they win all the non-conference games and at least one in the 76 Classic and they enter conference play with 12 wins.
Stop us if you've heard this story before.
However, Clemson has become a different program under Oliver Purnell. Do they fade at the end? So far, yes. Have they won an NCAA game? Well, no. Still, it's a real basketball program now as opposed to something to do between football and spring football.
Clemson is one of the most stable programs in the ACC now, trailing only the 15-501 power duo and Maryland. Only Wake and BC are even in the discussion. Everyone else is erratic, either from game to game or season to season. With UNC retrenching, although talented, and Duke and Maryland also sorting out their rosters and responsibilities, certainly it's possible that Clemson could make a move. A healthy Booker is a really big deal, but given the overall talent of this team, even that is conceivably surmountable. We're not saying it's irrelevant - far from it - but they have options.
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