Purnell's Workload Never Lightens

by - Correspondent -

There is little time to waste in Oliver Purnell's world.

In fact, the past two years have been a whirlwind of nonstop action for the Clemson men's basketball coach.

Since taking over the Tigers' program following the 2003 Final Four, Purnell has logged enough frequent flyer miles to earn a two-week vacation at some exotic location, a place free of worries over missed free throws and turnovers.

The only problem lies in when to take such a trip?

"May," he said with a laugh. "I've got a couple of weeks scheduled then to get away. It's going to be nice."

One can understand the desire for a vacation.

It's stressful enough coaching Division I college basketball in a conference many consider to be the best in the country - especially when you're trying to rebuild a program from the ground up. In today's college basketball landscape, coaching at this level already is a year-round gig.

To that workload Purnell has, over the past two years, cast himself as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic team, first in the World Championships and then, last summer, in the Olympics themselves.

Toss in senior recruiting, junior recruiting and summer camps and "before you know it August has rolled around again and the kids are back in school," he said.

Which means the middle of next October - when college basketball practice officially opens across the country - really isn't all that far away.

For Purnell, vacation needs aside, next season can't get here quickly enough.

The way Clemson closed the current season - the unlikely win over Virginia Tech on Senior Night, beating Maryland for a third time in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 1998-99 - Purnell would almost prefer to get back at it immediately.

But time and the NCAA dictate he wait.

So, as he wraps up review of the season past, Purnell begins to cast an eye toward next year while he waits. And with another outstanding recruiting class due to report this summer - plus the addition of the reinstated Troy Mathis - Purnell believes the Clemson program is on the rise.

Slow, grueling upward climb that it may be.

"You don't advance by leaps and bounds in this league," he said. "You're not going to just leapfrog over a Duke or a North Carolina. You have to be willing to outwork people while you develop players, and that's what we're doing here.

"At the end of this season we felt like we could play with anybody in the country."

In the ACC tournament the Tigers did, pushing North Carolina to the brink before finally bowing out in the game's final minutes.

Watching his team play so well against a Tar Heel squad sitting firmly entrenched in this year's Final Four - set to unfold this weekend in St. Louis - Purnell can be excused for having an itchy trigger finger. It's going to take a tremendous amount of work to get his Clemson program to the level of UNC, Duke and the other elite teams in the country.

And there's no time like the present to get started.

One senses his vacation may be in jeopardy.

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. 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.

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