Commentary: Promotion One Missing Ingredient of Purnell Rebuilding Effort
As the final days of Oliver Purnell's first full season at the helm of the Clemson basketball program wind down, those who follow the team are beginning to take stock - both in the present and the future.
On the surface, it would appear that the Tigers took a small step backward from where they finished a year ago in Larry Shyatt's final season. This team will not reach the 15-win mark of its immediate predecessor, barring a Hoosier's-type run through the final three regular season games and the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.
But wins aside, the general feeling seems to be that the Clemson basketball program is on firm ground, standing astride a solid foundation being laid this season, and probably through the next two.
This despite the obvious shortcomings Purnell's current team continues to play through as March draws near.
What shortcomings? There are plenty.
This team doesn't protect the basketball, as averaging nearly 20 turnovers a game would attest. It doesn't have proven, consistent scoring behind Shawan Robinson, who emerged as the Tigers' main offensive threat when inserted into the starting lineup just shy of the midpoint of the conference schedule.
Though it maintains a positive rebounding margin for the season, Purnell's team seems to get outrebounded regularly by the upper echelon of the conference. And they continue to shoot free throws about as well as Howard Dean is faring in the Democratic race.
Still, when one watches this team play, it's easy to put all that aside for two halves of basketball, even as the mistakes continue to pile up right in front of your eyes.
Because this team never quits.
It plays defense from start to finish. It dives on the floor after loose balls. It creates an atmosphere which allows intelligent onlookers to realize that with some offensive help on the way this team has a chance to get better, and quickly.
But there remains one other holdover of the Shyatt era which must be addressed before Purnell can truly work his magic.
When he was contacted about the Clemson opening following the departure of Rick Barnes, Purnell said no thanks to the school because he didn't feel like there was a true commitment to the basketball program. Five years later, Purnell said athletic director Terry Don Phillips assured him basketball was a priority and, feeling like Phillips was a man of his word, agreed to take the job in April of last year.
To say Phillips has gone back on his word is premature. But one can't help but wonder exactly how much further up the ladder the basketball program has climbed in the space of a season?
Try as one might, it has been difficult - virtually impossible, in fact - to track down any serious promotion of this current basketball season outside of the usual press coverage offered in the Upstate.
Where are the newspaper ads? The television commercials? The radio spots, all promoting upcoming games against some of the elite teams in America?
There are no billboards around promoting Purnell's weekly call-in radio show, giving times, dates and locations for fans to listen and/or attend. Yet right there on Highway 123 Southbound between Clemson and Easley is the weather-beaten billboard for football coach Tommy Bowden's call-in show, plainly visible despite the fact that his last regular season show took place in November.
Where are the morning radio stunts, the mass ticket giveaways, the kind of marketing strategies designed to draw people into a Littlejohn Coliseum that has, for the most part this season, played to crowds ranging from half to three-quarters capacity?
These are offered up as questions, because to this point no answers have been provided despite phone calls and emails to some of those in charge. And if some of those things have been done, then an apology is offered now. But if they're out there, they're well hidden.
And sure, there is a bit of the chicken-egg battle at play here.
If a team doesn't win, heavy promotion is needed to help draw crowds. But what's the best advertisement for a program? Winning games.
It can be the nastiest of Catch-22 scenarios.
But the bottom line is this: Long gone are the days when you can hang a shingle outside the box office proclaiming "Game Tonight," and expect Littlejohn Coliseum to fill to capacity.
Instead, there must be an increase in the creative nature of which these Clemson Tigers are promoted. The man who bears the ultimate burden of that responsibility is, of course, Phillips.
He has done a magnificent job in the first 18 or so months of his tenure here at Clemson. But there remains work to be done, promises to be kept, a team to be promoted.
At least until the program begins to win.
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.