CLEMSON -- The most noticeable difference between the current Clemson University basketball team and its counterpart of a year ago is evident from the moment you walk into Littlejohn Coliseum.
There, in practice, are 10 healthy bodies banging on one another full speed. A small group of others wait their turn off to the side, anxious for an opportunity to impress the coaching staff.
For third-year head coach Larry Shyatt, the nightmare that was 1999-2000 is history.
“If you go down in practice now and take a tough charge, like we’ve had a couple of times, you want to get back up and you want to get back (on the floor) in a hurry,” Shyatt said Wednesday following his team’s hour-long situational scrimmage. “We have two or three on the sideline that want in, which is really what you want to have. If you want to develop the confidence and improvement, that’s what you need in terms of competitiveness.”
There will be no lack of competition in practice this season. Despite the untimely loss of junior forward Chucky Gilmore to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Shyatt’s team has noticeably more balance and depth than a season ago.
That factor alone should help Clemson improve over a dismal 10-20 (4-13 ACC) showing last year.
In fact, Shyatt is so enthused over the future of his program that he hedges even talking about the past.
“We don’t want to go back in time,” he said, shaking his head.
Well, with the possible exception of Will Solomon.
The All-ACC guard was the heart and soul of last year’s Tigers, averaging 21.1 points per game and carrying the team despite his lack of stature and seasoned teammates.
But it is Solomon’s supporting cast - both new and returning - which will determine how much improved this Clemson team will be. And Wednesday’s scrimmage, though ragged at times and short on offense, gave a glimpse at what might be on the horizon once the team develops chemistry on the floor.
- Highly-touted freshman Chris Hobbs (6-7, 250) easily was the best physical specimen on the floor, and showed no ill-effects of the torn ACL which robbed him of his senior year at East Chapel Hill (N.C.) High School;
- Freshman guard Tony Stockman (Medina, Ohio) seemed at ease running the point, and has been apt to impressive long-distance shooting displays early in practice;
- Sophomores Tomas Nagys (F) and Edward Scott are noticeably 20-25 pounds heavier than a year ago, all of it muscle;
- Junior college transfer Jamar McKnight (6-5, 195) gives the Tigers much-needed athleticism on the perimeter.
Of course, drastic improvement in the ACC may be a futile endeavor this season, if for no other reason than the rest of the conference returns at nearly full strength. But, ever the optimist, Shyatt seems poised and ready to surprise more than a few people with his young team in 2000-2001.
“I think (fans) are going to see competitiveness,” he said. “I think they’re going to have a hard time picking the (players) they like. Hopefully, there will be a lot of them.”
- McKnight dislocated a finger on his shooting hand earlier this week, but had the digit taped and was practicing full speed Wednesday.
“A year ago the finger would have been broken and he would have been over there,” Shyatt joked, pointing to the stationary bikes on the sidlelines.
- Shyatt has yet to put what he terms his six or seven best players on one team during scrimmages so far this preseason.
“The competition’s been so good I haven’t done it yet,” he said. “But it’s coming.”
- The annual Orange-White games will be held Saturday as a prelude to Clemson’s football game with Georgia Tech at Death Valley (3:30 p.m.).
The Clemson women will scrimmage at 10 a.m., while the men will go at 12:30 p.m. Both games will be held in Littlejohn Coliseum and are free to the public.
Dan Scott is the sports editor of Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger.
His columns can be read at www.dailyjournalmessenger.com.