The sky’s the limit for Clemson hoops

by - Correspondent -
Clemson will need big contributions from its highly touted incoming freshman class led by forward Milton Jennings. (Photos: fotoman)

CLEMSON -- Expectations are high for the Clemson Tiger men’s basketball team heading into the 2009-10 season with the team picked to finish third in the ACC and ranked in the top 25 preseason poll nationally.

And why not? The Tigers are returning 11 lettermen from a team that went 23-9 last season and made its second appearance in the NCAA Tournament in as many years.

And though the team lost senior sharpshooters K.C. Rivers to graduation and Terrence Oglesby to the pros, this season’s version of the Tigers is still loaded with experience in seniors Trevor Booker, David Potter and juniors Demontez Stitt, and Jerai Grant. It also features sophomores Tanner Smith and Andre Young who saw significant playing time their freshman season.

“The core leadership group is doing a good job,” said Coach Oliver Purnell at ACC Operation Basketball last month.

The wildcard will be the highly touted incoming freshman class that will be expected to contribute immediately, Purnell said.

“The senior guys are coming along real well,” he said. “The younger guys are struggling a little bit, but every day they get more comfortable. You’re always concern with the younger players.”

The incoming freshman class – Devin Booker, Milton Jennings, Noel Johnson and Donte Hill – will be asked to contribute early on a team that plays 10 or 11 guys every night, Purnell said.

“Only time will tell,” he said of the freshman. “These guys will get their feet wet early. For us to be successful those guys are going to have to step up.”

Jennings, a 6’9” forward from Summerville, S.C., was ranked as high as the nation’s #17 prospect by PrepStars, Booker, a 6’8” forward from Whitmire, S.C., and brother of Trevor, is listed as high as #65 by two recruiting services. Hill, a 6’5” guard from Virginia Beach, Va., is a top-150 prospect, according to

Clemson’s class was ranked #23 by and #25 by ESPNU, prior to the addition of Johnson, who committed to Clemson after troubles at the University of Southern California.

The top returning player on the team is Booker, who was voted to the preseason All-ACC team. He led the ACC in rebounds per game (9.7) and field goal percentage (.571) last season.

With the three-point shooting threat of Rivers and Oglesby gone, Purnell said, the Tigers will have to look to take higher percentage outside shots and be more of a “high-octane, attacking, slashing” team.

“We are going to have to knock down some outside shots to prove that we can make it,” he said. “We will probably see more zone defense this year.”

Senior forward David Potter said this team should not have any problem making up for Rivers and Oglesby’s three point shooting.

“I think we might have more shooters than we did last year,” he said. “We have a lot more talented team than we did last year and if we work extremely hard then we can make some things happen. We’ve been to the NCAA tournament twice now. We’re looking forward to moving forward in that tournament.”

Senior center Trevor Booker agrees.

“This team is probably the most talented team I’ve been on since coming to Clemson,” he said. “The only thing that can hold us back is our effort.”

Booker said he will be a more “vocal” leader on the team this season to make sure the Tigers give the kind of effort necessary to be a special team.

“We’re looking to get over winning our first game in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “Last year K.C. (Rivers) was the leader. This year I’m looking to be more vocal.”

He added Potter, Smith, Young and the four incoming freshman should give the team plenty of fire power from behind the three-point line.

The sky’s the limit for the Tigers this season, Purnell said.

“We think the ACC is wide open,” Purnell said. “We think we’re one of those teams that can make a difference. I feel we have to the ability to be a special team. We’re a long way away from that. Our guys have the responsibility to bring this team along. We could be pretty good.”

The regular season tips off for Clemson on Friday, Nov. 13 against Presbyterian.

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