Clemson hoops: Five-month change shows no one should be "comfortable"
|Wednesday, March 15, 2017, 11:45 AM- -|
CLEMSON – What a difference five months can make.
On October 15th, hundreds of people from Clemson’s administration, boards, athletic department, boosters, fans, coaches, and players gathered in the newly renovated Littlejohn Coliseum and cheered on a new day in Clemson basketball. Excitement was at an all-time high.
One day short of five months, a paltry 2,785 fans showed up for Clemson’s home NIT game against Oakland, and most of those headed for the exits when it was evident the Tigers were going to come up short against the seventh-seeded Grizzlies. The attendance is an actual, accurate count – unlike regular season games where 2,900 fans show up, and the attendance is listed as 8,500 because of actual tickets sold.
As we were walking into the Coliseum before the game, a fan was following us and asked where to buy his ticket. He mentioned it was his first basketball game, and he was excited to see the team play and the new arena. I wonder what his thoughts were after the collapse against Oakland?
After the game, we headed out through the Swann Pavilion, and I crossed over the same spot where all of those people gathered in October when hopes were high.
At that ribbon cutting ceremony, Clemson President Jim Clements smiled and said, “I really do believe the best is yet to come for Clemson basketball.”
It wouldn’t be hard to have “the best” in Clemson basketball. The school doesn’t exactly have a storied tradition on the hardwood – there have been good years here and there, but the reality is that Clemson has 11 NCAA Tournament appearances since 1980 and hasn’t gotten out of the first round since 1997. As good as many Clemson fans think Oliver Purnell was during his tenure here, he never made it past opening day in the tournament.
During that October celebration, senior forward Jaron Blossomgame was asked about his thoughts on the direction of Clemson hoops.
“The excitement around basketball is at an all-time high right now, so I am really glad and happy about my decision to come back,” Blossomgame said.
Following the debacle against Oakland, a more somber Blossomgame was asked about the second-half collapse, and he said, “I guess we got comfortable.”
Comfortable. The same word head coach Brad Brownell used on Monday when we asked him about his job security.
The truth is that nobody should be “comfortable” after Tuesday’s performance. Not the coach. Not the players. Not the Athletic Director. The fans certainly aren’t comfortable, and the fans that exited early Tuesday night, heads hanging low, stood in stark contrast to the smiles and excitement of October.
Make no mistake about it, Tuesday’s loss is just as much on the players as it as Brownell. I’ve never seen a team throw up ill-advised shots like this one. 25-footers early in the shot clock aren’t exactly crisp offense, and there are certain players that get on the floor and feel like they have to force something to be a part of the action.
As the second half unfolded, I also watched to see where the leadership would come from. In the past, that was the point of the game where a Greg Buckner or K.C. Rivers would give someone an earful. That type of leadership wasn’t – and hasn’t been – present in a few years. You also want to see your head coach take up for his team, get mad, let someone know that what is happening isn’t acceptable. Heck, pull a Mike Krzyzewski and take their jerseys away and let them know there is a standard.
Instead, we saw another end-of-game collapse. The Tigers blew an 18-point lead against Georgia Tech in the 2016 ACC Tournament that ended last season, and they were outscored 45-20 by a team from the Horizon League over the final 17 minutes Tuesday.
When the team made a run in the NIT in 2014, the fans got behind them. There was a decent crowd for the opener against Georgia St., but the old Littlejohn was packed (at noon on a Sunday no less) for the second round game against Illinois. They turned people away for the third round contest against Belmont.
That wouldn’t have happened this year. There is a disconnect somewhere, and it has to be fixed. This team was too talented to lose like this. There were too many losses like this for it to be ascribed to fate or the basketball gods or bad luck. Something is missing.
Brownell’s comments Monday said a lot if you read between the lines. His statement that he felt comfortable he would return made me wonder if he's already been promised another year by Athletic Director Dan Radakovich. My thought process was that no matter what happened Tuesday, Brownell would be the head coach next season.
Does Tuesday’s low attendance and another numbing performance change things? Time will tell. Perhaps we will see Radakovich do what he did with former baseball coach Jack Leggett – pledge a year of support while demanding progress.
I was on my way downstairs for postgame interviews Tuesday night, and one Clemson fan grabbed me and said, “All we want is a basketball program we can be proud of. Something has to give. This isn’t working.”
So what happens next? Does Brownell, a good guy who has represented Clemson well, get another year? Or does the lack of tourney appearances and the dismal five months change things to the point a change is made?
All eyes are now on Radakovich. Whatever he decides, it won’t be a comfortable decision to make. But like I said earlier, no one involved should be comfortable at this point.