CLEMSON - Even as questions about Larry Shyatt's job status have arisen yet again this season, his players haven't been noticeably affected by the hullabaloo.
On the contrary, Clemson's players have maintained a remarkable focus as the controversy swirls.
For instance, just one game after what could have been a deflating loss to arch-rival South Carolina, the Tigers responded with perhaps their best overall effort of the season in last Saturday's 80-77 win over North Carolina at Littlejohn Coliseum. Backed by a boisterous sellout crowd, the team's energy level never wavered despite trailing by as many as seven points and being embarrassed by woeful offensive rebounding totals in the first half.
Instead, Clemson responded with a 48-point second half, reversed the trend on the boards and, ultimately, won the game.
All this, mind you, after waking up that morning to published reports that even a winning record and trip to the National Invitational Tournament might not be enough to save Shyatt's job.
"All season long, except for perhaps a half against North Carolina State, they've played with that kind of energy," Shyatt said. "I'm very proud of this team. No matter what's happened to them, they've never quit."
The question is, why?
Why, with another Atlantic Coast Conference season apparently ready to cave in on them, do Shyatt's players still talk of shocking the league, winning the conference tournament and making the NCAA Tournament?
Why do they believe they can defy 50 years of ACC history and have success on the road here in the regular season's final weeks?
Why haven't they lost focus amid the growing concerns of Shyatt's job status?
"Let me take all the credit. I don't allow them to focus on anything else," Shyatt joked.
Then, turning serious, he said:
"I've told you for six months these are great kids. They represent Clemson, themselves, their families...It doesn't surprise me at all. They know what they want, they've always known what they wanted. And if they get denied it's not going to be for lack of trying.
"But it's probably a great question to ask (the players). I've got all the confidence in the world they'll tell you the best answer."
The most logical starting point, then, is senior co-captain and point guard Edward Scott.
Recently crowned the ACC's Co-Player of the Week (with Maryland's Steve Blake) for his performances against Carolinas North and South last week, Scott is - and has been - the leader of this team both on and off the floor for at least two seasons. He often confers with Shyatt on everything from play calling on the court to individual and team concerns away from it.
And it is Scott who is the most vocal about keeping alive thoughts of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
"First of all coach Shyatt puts no pressure on us. He comes into practice every day with the same attitude ... By him doing that everything else runs a whole lot smoother," he said. "Second of all, he told us this season is not for him. It's for us, the team. We've got a great team, we feel like, and feel like we can do special things this year. The players think this is the year when we can get some things accomplished.
"That's why we're holding onto the NCAA dream so long. We don't want to give up on that. Since we believe that, it's easy to stay focused. The focus is coming from yourself rather than somebody putting pressure on you to make you stay focused.
"Coach Shyatt's motivational tactic is putting it on us rather than saying we've got to win it for him. It's totally helping the team."
Each player seems to maintain focus and draw motivation in his own way.
For senior Tomas Nagys, it's making sure practice remains loose rather than being "robots" and "going through the motions. You try to relax and have fun."
Sophomore forward Olu Babalola, on the other hand, prefers to take a more businesslike approach.
"All we can do is play basketball. It's not up to me whether he gets fired or not. All we can do is play," he said. "Everyone has their own thoughts in their head, but no one has spoken about it. The season's not over. We want to win every game, and if we win every game we have a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament. If we make the NCAAs, why would he get fired?
"But I'm not even looking at it like that. I want to go to the NCAAs. I want to go. And that's how everybody is looking at it."
Whatever the tactic, the overall approach has remained strong even through difficult times.
Whether the effort brings a postseason berth into focus remains to be seen.
Other ACC Games
Wednesday, February 19
Maryland at Duke
Steve Blake had 21 points and nine assists as Maryland took over first place in the ACC with a 90-67 win over 10th-ranked Wake Forest Monday ... the Terps are the only ACC team with three road wins inleague play ... Blake moved into 10th place on
the NCAA career assist list with 903 assists ... Gary Williams ties Charles (Lefty) Driesell for fifth place on the ACC career win list (122) ... Shelden Williams scored a
career-high 20 points, had eight rebounds and four blocked shots as Duke ended a four-game road losing streak Saturday defeating Virginia 78-59 ... Chris Duhon leads the ACC in assists (7.1) and assists-to-turnover ratio (2.53-to-1) ... J.J. Redick is averaging 16.2 points per game in ACC play and has made 39-of-40 free throws in 11 conference games.
Thursday, February 20
Wake Forest at Georgia Tech
Wake Forest is 3-3 against ranked teams ... Vytas Danelius has three double-doubles this season and five for his career and is averaging 14.4 ppg in league
games and 11.5 in non-ACC contests ... Josh Howard has scored in double figures a league-high 16 straight games and leads the ACC in scoring (18.9) ... Three Yellow Jackets - B.J. Elder (15.9), Chris Bosh (15.6), and Marvin Lewis (13.0) - are listed among the ACC’s top 15 scorers ... Bosh is ninth in the ACC in scoring, second in rebounding (9.5), first in field goal percentage (.571) and blocked shots (2.0) ... over his last six games Jarrett Jack is averaging 13.8 points, 6.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game ... Jack is fourth in the ACC in assists (5.9).