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ACC Preview #7 - Clemson

The Tigers could be very, very dangerous again

Clemson v Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 28: Head coach Brad Brownell of the Clemson Tigers reacts to a play in the second half during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena on February 28, 2023 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

There aren’t many more admirable programs in the ACC right now than Clemson. The Tigers have always had a tough time competing in basketball in this conference. Since he arrived in 2010, Brad Brownell has made Clemson a very tough out and, occasionally, a superb team.

Brownell grew up in Evansville, Indiana, which means that he grew up completely soaked in basketball.

Part of that is just the Hoosier state tradition, but another local and very proud part is Evansville: the Aces have a tremendous basketball history. It’s just that most of it was in D-II, which a lot of people overlook.

Nonetheless, Evansville won five national championships between 1959 and 1971, which is basically Wooden territory. It’s been tougher since moving to D-I, but the Aces do have a legendary upset of Kentucky in 2019 - at Rupp, no less.

Not to go too far down a rabbit hole, but Evansville started in D-I in 1977 and in December, a plane went down, killing the entire team except for one guy who was injured and didn’t make the flight. Sadly, he and his brother died two weeks later in a car crash, so Evansville had to completely rebuild their program from scratch.

Brownell was nine when that happened.

Before his move to Clemson, Brownell led UNC-W to what would have been a great upset of Maryland in the 2003 NCAA tournament. Only a truly clutch shot at the buzzer by Drew Nicholas saved the Terps from ignominious defeat. Check out how he just runs off the court. It’s one of the greatest shots in NCAA history.

Brownell’s record at Clemson is 241-177, which, for Tigertown, is pretty good. Covid disrupted a couple of seasons, like everywhere, but it doesn’t obscure one of Brownell’s great strengths, which is player development.

Clemson has a very tough time recruiting against the big boys so Brownell has to identify players who have the potential to develop. And look at what he’s done there just recently: Jaron Blossomgame, Aamir Simms, Hunter Tyson and PJ Hall all came to Clemson mostly, at best, second-tier recruits. And all became legitimately superb college players.

From last year’s roster, Brownell loses Tyson, Brevin Galloway and Ben Middlebrooks. The first two either graduated or ran out of eligibility and Middlebrooks is now at NC State.

Tyson is a great example of how good Brownell is at identifying and developing young talent. He was the #8 forward out of high school - in North Carolina. He was the 34th ranked forward nationally. Wake Forest was on to him, but UNC apparently wasn’t, and NC State was nowhere to be found on his list. And we’re pretty sure Duke wasn’t either.

Brownell found him and turned him into an NBA player. Well, that’s a bit much. Tyson did the work, but still, we’re not sure he would have developed this well at, say, Wake Forest.

Galloway spent one year at Clemson after transferring from Boston College and Middlebrooks was a guy who might have developed more with the Tigers but he of course opted out.

You may remember that Galloway got a bizarre NIL deal after suffering a testicular torsion after - in his words - “my balls and nutsack were exploded...I guess they were trying to be like basketballs.”

Maybe he is the GOAT (not the acronym) after all.

He got an NIL deal out of it though from a company that makes an underwear called “Ball Hammocks.”

Five years ago, we might have made this up for April Fool’s. But we digress.

The Tigers get a fair amount back: PJ Hall, Chase Hunter, Ian Schieffelin, RJ Godfrey, Joshua Beadle, Dillon Hunter, Alex Hemenway and Chauncey Wiggins all return.

Hall has struggled with injuries at Clemson, dealing with a knee injury last season and a foot injury the season before. A 6-10 senior now, Hall has been a tough out for everyone. He took it to Duke last year in Littlejohn, for one. The guy is for real. At one point, Mike Krzyzewski called him “the most improved player on the planet.”

If you wondering, Hall’s actual name is Paul. Paul Hall. PJ was a good call for Paul Hall.

Hunter had some big moments last year and having a senior guard is a real boon. We’re sure Jeff Capel would love to have him, for instance. Hunter averaged 13.8 ppg, 3.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists (somewhat less impressive when you factor in a 2.3 turnover rate, but still).

Little brother Dillon is back as well. Now a sophomore, the 6-4 younger Hunter (Dillon is 6-3) showed potential and we expect he’ll continue to improve.

Schieffelin is a modest talent who has made the most of his ability. He’s primarily a defender and a complementary player. We’re not knocking him when we say this - we admire him - but he’s a limited talent who nonetheless has had an impact. Which, again, speaks well of Clemson’s ability to identify and develop less heavily recruited players.

Hemenway missed an awful lot of last season with plantar fasciitis which was too bad, because, like several of his teammates, he had begun to mature into a really good player. Due to his foot problem, he only played in 20 games. Presumably with a lot of rest and therapy, he’s good to go this year. The 6-4 senior shot 47 percent from behind the line last year and 50 percent overall. He’s become a dangerous presence.

Beadle hasn’t played a whole lot yet but given Brownell’s track record, don’t overlook the 6-3 sophomore. It’s his third year in the program - he redshirted as a freshman - so he knows his way around.

Godfrey didn’t play a whole lot last year, but he was at the bottom of the rotation and should get better. A 6-7 sophomore, Beadle is a combo guard who helped his high-school team to back to back state championships. He was also his senior class president and his dad had an impressive NFL career.

Keep an eye on him as the season goes on. He could move up.

Finally there’s Wiggins. The second Wiggins at Clemson as far as we can remember, he doesn’t appear to be related to Mitchell, who was a Tiger before transferring to pre-ACC Florida State.

That Wiggins went on to a drug-shortened NBA career and is now better known as the father of current NBA star Andrew Wiggins.

Chauncey is a 6-9 forward who didn’t play a lot last season - just 8.9 mpg - but he shot 40 percent on threes . However, he shot just 44 percent overall and a wretched 66.7 from the line. He weighs just 205 which could limit him somewhat at least in the short term and may help to explain both his poor overall shooting and perhaps his disinclination to rough it up inside. But Brownell values him for his potential to help spread the floor and open the offense.

The transfers are interesting and two are familiar to ACC fans: Jack Clark from NC State and Joe Girard from Syracuse.

The 6-8 Clark is on his second transfer: he left LaSalle for NC State and was in Raleigh for one season. Unfortunately, Clark has a bad injury history: he had two knee injuries at LaSalle and at NC State, he missed six weeks with a core muscle injury suffered, ironically, against Clemson. He also had, we think, a groin injury and a back injury.

It was hard to get a good idea of what he could do but he was a solid rotation player when healthy, getting 26.8 mpg, scoring 9.0 ppg and grabbing 6.9 boards an outing. He could really help the Tigers if he stays healthy.

The most intriguing transfer though is Girard. He was sort of hit and miss with the Orange and never really seemed to establish himself completely. You can’t really say he was a disappointment, but you also can’t say he lived up to expectations. This is a guy, remember, who scored more than 5,000 points in high school. He’ll be much more free to shoot at Clemson. Nothing is likely to make him taller - he’s just 6-1 and he’s not particularly long - but he should have been a bigger factor at Syracuse. Our guess is Brownell will know what to do with him and with Hunter at point guard, Girard should be that much more dangerous to fire away from outside. And keep in mind that he ran point for Jim Boeheim so basically Clemson will have dual point guards.

We don’t know a lot about the other two transfers. Leyte is from UNCG and is a native of the Netherlands. He was was all SoCon and will likely backup Hall. Given how injury-prone Hall has been, he needs a back up, too. Leyte should be able to at least do what Ben Middlebrooks did last year. If he does, Middlebrooks’ own transfer becomes a wash.

The fourth transfer is interesting too: he’s Jake Heidbreder from Air Force. Like Girard, he’s a talented shooter.

The only freshmen is Asa Thomas, a 6-7 wing from Lake Forest, Illinois. He’s likely to be a better shooter than Clark. We don’t know how much he’ll play this year, but add him to the other three point shooters and Clemson should be very dangerous from the perimeter. And it’s not like all the three point shooters need to be hot at the same time.

Whatever else you can say about this team, say this: if Hemenway, Girard, Heidbreder and Thomas are reasonably effective from the perimeter, Hall is going to be very happy and Clark and others are going to have plenty of open lanes to the basket.

We say this final bit with affection because we like and respect Clemson. Honestly we do.

But the staff photos really look like mug shots. Go look at a mug shot page somewhere and then come back to the Tigers. You’ll see what we mean. They need a better photographer.

And we should also say that we’re very happy that the most euphonious name in the ACC is still around. His parents could have called him Richard, Ricky, Richy or Rich but Mr. and Mrs. Bender had the courage to call their little boy Dick and we respect them for that.