Clemson basketball has tradition too. It’s just not like the kind you find in the Big Four, where even Wake Forest has made a Final Four and has seen some of the game’s true legends pass through, notably Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and Muggsy Bogues.
At Clemson, they’ve had some great talents too, just infrequently and without a lot of support. Horace Grant played there, along with Sharone Wright and Tree Rollins. Skip Wise passed through in the ‘70s.
Still, Clemson’s tradition, traditionally, is this: be fairly average, get to post-season periodically (typically the NIT), lose and go home.
Mix in a periodic home upset and that’s about it.
Not last year.
Clemson started off great, then had a bad break with an injury to Donte Grantham. It seemed like it might derail the season but the Tigers regrouped and played well, losing to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, 80-76.
That wasn’t the game that had everyone buzzing though. No, that would be the prior game, against Auburn, when Clemson was not very Clemson-like - at least when it came to the NCAA tournament.
Clemson was stunning against Auburn. The defense was brilliant and every shot went in. It was a performance for the ages, one they’ll be talking about for as long as Clemson plays basketball.
Us too for that matter. We’ve never been more impressed with Clemson than we were during that game. They were unbelievable.
And we’d argue that that game did as much as anything to change the perception of Clemson basketball. It’s not slow and boring; it’s not fast and careless. It was a brilliant display and as good as any around the ACC.
If they can bottle it, it’s a great identity for that program.
Grantham is gone, having sadly lost half of his senior year to a knee injury. Also gone: Gabe DeVoe, who became a really critical part of the team and grad student transfer Mark Donnal.
Forward David Skara said he was leaving to play pro ball in Europe but then decided to return.
Clemson also has 6-9 Elijah Thomas back, and once he whipped himself into basketball shape he became a major asset for Clemson. He’s perhaps the best returning low post player in the ACC and will anchor Clemson’s front line. He was close to a double-double with 10.7 ppg and 8.1 rpg.
We saw enough last season of Aamir Simms to realize that the 6-7 sophomore is pretty athletic and could become a better player eventually than Grantham. He’s listed at 248 so he can throw his weight around too. He averaged 4 ppg and 3.2 rpg. Look for both to go up.
David Skara (3.3 ppg/2.8 rpg), a 6-8 import from Croatia, fills out the front line. He transferred from Creighton and was a solid player for the Tigers last season. Like Simms, he didn’t score a lot, but at times he was really effective. He has some typical European traits in his game - handles the ball well, moves it effectively, can shoot a bit. He’ll help a lot.
Marcquise Reed and Shelton Williams, both 6-3 seniors, are back at the guard spots.
Williams was originally going to go to Wake Forest when Jeff Bzdelik resigned, then went to Vandy only to transfer after (if memory serves) Kevin Stallings left for his brief, nightmarish tenure at Pitt.
He’s been a solid point guard for Clemson and at 6-4 has some size advantages. He put up 12. ppg, 3 rpg and 3.6 apg.
Reed also transferred in, from Robert Morris in his case and was impressive, averaging 15.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 3.3 apg.
Sophomores Clyde Trapp (6-4), Anthony Oliver (6-5) and Malik William (6-8) were all guys who got limited minutes last year and who will get a chance to make a bigger mark this time around.
They’ll be competing for minutes with four freshmen and two transfers.
The transfers are big men Jonathan Baehre (6-10), a sophomore who sat out last year after transferring from UNC-Asheville, and 6-10 Javan White, an Oral Roberts grad who went to the same high school as Harrison Barnes.
Both will likely be depth and not much more.
As for the freshmen:
Hunter Tyson is a 6-8 forward from Monroe, NC, Parker Fox is a 6-6 guard from Reno (get ready for obscure Folsom Prison Blues references), John Newman a 6-6 guard from Greensboro Day and Trey Jamison is a 7-0 center from Birmingham.
We don’t know a lot about the freshmen although Jamison was highly regarded in Alabama and was widely recruited He also weighs 254 so he won’t have to gain weight like a lot of big men.
Thing is, the freshmen and sophomores (mostly) have time to develop.
Clemson’s big three right now are Reed, Mitchell and Thomas. Skara will be a role player, although a very useful one, and Simms could develop into a major force.
The big three gives Clemson nearly 40 returning ppg. If Skara and Simms can average 15 between them - a reasonable goal - Clemson can get almost 60 ppg from the starters. That’s not too bad, considering the Tigers averaged about 74 ppg last season. The bench will have to develop but Brad Brownell is a superb if under-appreciated coach. He’ll find a way to bring them along.
The main thing about Clemson though is always defense. Brownell’s D is aggressive and extremely physical. Actually, we’d be curious to see how teams do the game after they play the Tigers because Clemson beats you down and wears you out.
The Tigers have enough talent to match last year’s 25 wins and, if things break well, to exceed it. Look for another NCAA bid in Tigertown this spring.
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