Brownell ready for year 1-A to begin

by - Senior Writer -

SUNSET – The Clemson media gathered in Sunset, S.C., early Wednesday to meet with head basketball coach Brad Brownell, which is ironic considering that both Brownell and the Clemson program are in the dawn of a new era Clemson basketball, not the sunset.

Brownell met with the media at The Reserve at Lake Keowee to talk about what is officially year two of his tenure at Clemson, but with so much uncertainty surrounding a team that returns just six players from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, Brownell had a different opinion of which year it is.

“It’s a little bit like year 1-A as opposed to year two,” Brownell said in the main room of the clubhouse at The Reserve, adding that he has a mix of veterans and younger players to work with when practice starts Friday.

“I think our older guys are much more comfortable and excited about how we play, how we do things, and you see that in their daily interaction,” Brownell said. “Our new kids look like deer in headlights right now, and that’s okay because it’s part of the process. But I always enjoy this time of year, because it’s when you start to put the pieces of a team together, and that’s one thing I really enjoy about coaching. Trying to take all these different parts and make them fit. We certainly have enough questions that that will be part of the challenge.”

Brownell has to replace starters Demontez StittDemontez Stitt
#2 6-2, 180
Matthews, NC

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and Jerai GrantJerai Grant
#45 6-8, 230
Bowie, MD

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– two players who provided valuable leadership and scoring during last season’s tournament run – and now must rely on guards Tanner SmithTanner Smith
Sr. Guard
#5 6-5, 210
Alpharetta, GA

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and Andre YoungAndre Young
Sr. Guard
#11 5-9, 175
Albany, GA

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and the ever-evolving Devin BookerDevin Booker
Jr. Forward
#31 6-8, 245
Whitmire, SC

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down in the paint.

Brownell admitted that with enigmatic players like Booker and Milton JenningsMilton Jennings
Jr. Forward
#24 6-9, 225
Summerville, SC

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and five freshmen, this year’s team falls short of last year’s team in the talent category and will once again rely on defense to set the tone.

“We’re not as talented this year as we were last year,” he said. “Defense needs to be our foundation all the time. We’re not going to have enough of the wow players that we’re going to go in and outscore people and score 85 points every night. I just don’t know that’s going to be our recipe for our success here.”

He said that he believes that both Booker and Jennings have the ability to take their game to another level – something the Tigers will need – but they have to prove they can do it.

“Milton and Devin have the potential to take the next step and become more consistent players, and quite frankly they need to,” he said. “If they don’t, it’s going to be hard for us to be consistently good. Last year they were in a great spot - If they played well, great. If they didn’t play well, we could still win. I don’t’ know if that’s going to be the case this year. There are not enough standouts to carry the load.”

Among the freshmen, Devin ColemanDevin Coleman
Fr. Guard
#15 6-2, 200
Philadelphia, PA

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is probably the best pure shooter, but guard T.J. SappT.J. Sapp
Fr. Guard
#1 6-3, 190
Fort Lauderdale, FL

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and post player Bernard SullivanBernard Sullivan
Fr. Forward
#22 6-7, 225
Gastonia, NC

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will probably see the most playing time initially simply because of what they bring to the table.

However, they still have to prove they can play defense.

Our freshmen have to understand how to play on the defensive end to play,” he said. “If they don’t understand the defensive end, they can’t play. You can play for me if you defend your position and know how to play as a team defensively; you handle the ball and know what to do. None of them are a major league scorer, so they better do the other things if they want to play.”

Swingman Bryan NarcisseBryan Narcisse
Sr. Forward
#21 6-6, 220
North Augusta, SC

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, an energy player who provided a spark off the bench last season, joins big man Catalin BaciuCatalin Baciu
Sr. Center
#10 7-2, 255

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as the other two players joining Smith, Young, Jennings and Booker as the core of the team this season.

“I just think we’re more comfortable because there are six guys who have an understanding of what we’re trying to do. Understand our defensive principles,” Brownell said. “They understand most of our offensive principles; they’re comfortable with the coaches. We’re comfortable with them. So from that standpoint, that’s where we’re ahead.”

Baciu certainly has the size to be a force in the middle, and Brownell said he is looking to get 10-to-15 minutes per game out of the Romanian big man, but knows that ”Bobo” has to change his attitude if he wants to be effective.

“It’s just not in his personality to play that way,” he said. “But he has to learn that it's not okay to get scored on. It's not okay to not get that rebound. He has to have a competitive fire and that nastiness. It's not his personality, but he's got to get out of it."

Jennings showed flashes of his talent last season, but also let things bother him too much to be an effective player, according to his head coach.

"Milton lets things bother him longer than they should,” he said. “We're trying to get him to understand everything is not that big a deal. You can't let things bother you into the next play, or it will make you make bad plays. He's had a hard time with that. He didn't play as well in some games because things would stay with him and bother him. It doesn't roll off his back like it does with other guys. He takes things personally."

However, even Brownell knows that the success of this season may well depend on how fast the five freshmen come along, and he likes what he sees so far.

"The one thing I really like about our freshmen kids - and I talked to them about it as soon as they came on campus this summer - they need to be respectful of the elders in the program, the guys that have actually been to tournaments and done things," Brownell said. "The kids we recruited are great kids. They want to do what's right. They're very respectful of the other players. They're trying to learn as quickly as possible. The guys really like each other and they get along. I think that sometimes is overlooked by people, in terms of how a team gets through a long season together."

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