Commentary: Closing Thoughts on Clemson Basketball
Cleaning out Ye Olde Clemson Notebook:
Now that the most recent Clemson basketball season has come to a close, several images will remain fresh for some time to come.
One has head coach Oliver Purnell staring at the floor in exasperated disbelief as his team commits yet another unforced turnover. Another is Purnell, one side of his face resting in the palm of his hand, describing to the media what went wrong in the latest Tiger loss.
As he talks, Purnell sighs. It's difficult to tell it's a breath of frustration or resignation. Probably a little of both. Frustrated at another loss, resigned to the fact that there was nothing he could to prevent it from happening.
At least not at that particular moment.
But that's where the most enduring image comes into play.
It's the image of Purnell stalking the sidelines, continuing to coach and teach even while the game was slipping out of hand. It's the image of Purnell detailing with confidence his belief that basketball can be successful at Clemson.
It's the image of a coach who knows, through his already solid recruiting, help is on the way.
Some say this basketball team took a step backwards in 2003-2004. Some have whispered that Purnell is being let off the hook, that if Larry Shyatt were still the head coach he would be catching six kinds of grief from every angle.
Frankly, the thought here is that what we witnessed on the floor this season, Oliver Purnell's first, was a final reminder of just how valuable Ed Scott was to this team a year ago.
Purnell's job now is to go find his own Ed Scott, only bigger, taller, faster, better. And more than one of him.
Any doubts that he will?
While we're at it, a few kind words here about Jim Davis.
Folks around Clemson have become accustomed to Davis and his Lady Tigers reaching the NCAA Tournament. Fourteen trips in 17 years will do that to a fan base.
Truth be told, Davis has gotten used to the idea, too.
So much so that he was somewhat reluctant in his praise of a possible WNIT bid when we spoke last week. To Davis, any season that doesn't end with his team in an NCAA tournament bracket is just this side of a lost cause.
So with Davis setting the bar so high it's easy to take his disappointment at face value. But if you look beyond the smile, past the chewed stogie, even push him a little, you might get Davis to admit something startling:
He did a pretty good coaching job this season.
Coming off the only year in his tenure with a losing record and without any type of postseason appearance, it would have been easy to write off the Lady Tigers as a lost cause in 2003-2004. Especially with ACC All-Time Top 50 performer Chrissy Floyd graduated and gone on to bigger and better things.
But Davis somehow molded Lakeia Stokes - who for three years was noticeable only because of her inconsistency - into an All-ACC First Team performer this season. Led by Stokes, the Lady Tigers jumped out to a brilliant start to the season before fading down the stretch.
Still, a 17-11 finish is a far cry better than the 13-14 mark of the previous season. Davis will acknowledge as much, and will go so far as to tell you that if he could find a way to solve his lingering rebounding problems, the record could have been much better.
"Then we'd be in the NCAA tournament," he'd say. "Where we belong."
And we're back to square one. Never satisfied, but often overlooked.
Jim Davis just keeps on coaching.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.