Clemson's run to the Elite Eight was fun to watch
Clemson men's basketball experienced success in the NCAA Tournament that the program hadn't seen since 1980.

Clemson's run to the Elite Eight was fun to watch

by - Senior Writer -

The past few weeks have been a lot of fun, and here’s to hoping it’s not another 40 years before it happens again.

During the final moments of Clemson’s loss to Alabama Saturday night in Los Angeles, I did what I often do when I want to soak in a moment. I sat back – put the game story on hold for a moment – and looked across the way at the Clemson fans seated behind the Clemson bench.

President Jim Clements was there, as was Chief of Staff Max Allen. Athletic Director Graham Neff was there, just down the row from the parents of PJ Hall. And in the crowd of a few thousand that made their way to Los Angeles were friends and former players. Heck, even former quarterback Will Proctor, in town on business, made his way to cheer on the Tigers.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock and I finished the gamer, I watched as those fans applauded head coach Brad Brownell and his team as the Tigers left the court. The players and coaches weren’t in a mood to celebrate, but there were acknowledgments and waves.

As Hall, Chase Hunter, and Joe Girard made their way out of the locker room and towards the main interview area, Hall stopped to hug someone he knew, thanked them for coming, and then told another person, “Thank you for believing in me.”

I stopped for a moment of reflection and realized that this season – and especially the last two weeks being with the team in Memphis and Los Angeles – was the most fun I’ve had covering basketball. It was a joy and a treat to see the team rebound from the loss to Boston College in the ACC Tournament and make a run to the Elite Eight.

PJ Hall sat in his locker and told me about the freestyle rap battle the team had on the way to Los Angeles and how they all genuinely liked each other. When I asked how that happened, he pointed to the coaching staff and the culture of the program.

In the back of my mind, I recalled the words of football head coach Dabo Swinney, who once promised after winning his first championship that it wouldn’t be 40 years before it happened again. Brownell made no such promises – he isn’t the kind of coach to make big pronouncements – but there are signs that maybe, just maybe, this program has turned a corner.

Part of it is the transfer portal. Someone told me during the trip that Brownell earned the praise of his fellow ACC coaches because he was winning games with 2-stars and 3-stars against teams with 5-stars, but with the advent of the portal, it allows Clemson to recruit a higher-level player than someone straight out of high school.

Senior Joe Girard, plucked out of the portal last summer, was asked what his advice would be to a player who wanted to transfer to Clemson.

“Do it. For me, this place has been unbelievable. And it all goes back to the culture, really, and that's what was attractive to me,” Girard said. “The people at Clemson are great. I think I said that, like, the first week I got there. There were cookies at my apartment day from some random person that I still don't know who it was to this day.

“So Clemson is just an unbelievable place. There's unbelievable people. They obviously developed their players and they win a lot of basketball games. Anyone looking forward to living in a great place, playing with great people, playing for great people, and doing great things should go to Clemson.”

Brownell was asked the same question and pointed to the fact that since the facilities were renovated, he’s had a good program.

“My pitch would be what Joe just said. But I think it's coming better coming from a player. There's a lot of great salesmen in our business, a lot of guys that sell a lot of things that don't end up being what they really are,” Brownell said. “I'm proud to say that what we talk about at Clemson is real. And Joe Girard got to experience that. We just have tremendous people.

“We have great leadership. We have great administrative leadership. We have unbelievable athletic support. We have tremendous coaches. It's an unbelievable place to live. That's why I've been here so long. My girls went to school here. And since we got our facility renovated in 2017-18 we've been to a Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, another NCAA Tournament. Got a couple of guys in the NBA.”

The Tigers also have help coming from the high school level with three commits, and all three of the players are rated in the top 174 in the 247Sports Composite ratings, and two of the three are rated as 4-star recruits.

The highest-ranked player in the class is Dallas Thomas a 6’7, 170-pound small forward from Parkview Magnet High in Little Rock, Arkansas. 247Sports ranks Thomas No. 128 overall, but the other services are higher on Thomas, so much so that he comes in at No. 84 in the composite rankings.

Del Jones is a 6’2 combo guard from Chandler, Arizona, who was ranked No. 130 overall by and No. 120 overall by the 247Sports Composite.

The third member of the class is Clemson Legacy Ace Buckner, the son of Clemson great Greg Buckner. The 6’2 Buckner hails from the Cleveland area and is rated as the No. 23 combo guard in the class by 247sports and comes in at No. 173 in the composite rankings.

The Clemson coaches have been holding off on talking to potential transfers until after the tournament, but you can bet those conversations will begin today. And maybe, just maybe, we can all have a lot of fun next season.

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