CLEMSON - Given its history, the idea that No. 3 Duke would be one of four
remaining undefeated teams in the country heading into Sunday's matchup with
Clemson should come as no surprise.
But the fact that the Tigers are another of the teams without a loss? As
Casey Stengel would have said, "Who would have thunk it?"
Literary malapropisms aside, the fact remains that when
still-being-refurbished Littlejohn Coliseum opens its doors to the home team
for the first time this season, it will indeed be welcoming in half of the
nation's remaining unbeatens.
Clemson's 9-0 start is its best since beginning the 1995-96 season 11-0.
While obviously such beginnings have been few and far between for the Tiger
basketball program, to do it this season would have garnered even longer odds
on the boards in Las Vegas.
Because since March, when the team began practicing together away from the
watchful eyes of the coaching staff, until tonight, Clemson's basketball
program literally has been a Band on the Run (sorry Macca).
"They've certainly spent time in vans and buses the last six months," head
coach Larry Shyatt said. "Vans to Southern Wesleyan and buses to Anderson.
Sometimes you laugh about that, but really sameness never set in. We didn't
have the same locker room every day. Things were different from March until
we move into Littlejohn."
The workouts away from campus - the new basketball annex's practice floor
wasn't available until October - and playing its "home" schedule more than 20
miles away in Anderson could have had a detrimental effect on this team.
Especially if you consider the Tigers, who have suffered the indignity of
appearing in the last three play-in games in the Atlantic Coast Conference
tournament, again were an afterthought among most of those charged with
picking the order of finish in the ACC for 2002-2003.
Given that it had no home from March until Sunday, mailing in another subpar
season could have been expected, if not excused. But instead, the Tigers
flourished in eight "home" games at The Civic Center of Anderson, and won
another on a neutral floor in Greensboro.
"It's been a combination of five older players - a couple of walkons and the
three seniors - getting our team prepared," head coach Larry Shyatt said. "It
was long hard work in the summer and in the offseason. And then it was
applying it to some games, in Anderson of all places, not a home venue. I
don't know if there were any great games with all pistons hitting, but
certainly it was good basketball."
Point guard Ed Scott, one of those seniors praised by Shyatt for the way
they've handled this uproar of a preseason, is quick to toss the credit back
in the direction of his coach.
"He's kept us together through all this," said Scott. "He said that if we
have a game scheduled on an outdoor court, we have to figure out a way to
make the wind work in our favor. That's the attitude we've taken."
Whether any of that means anything vs. Duke Sunday is anyone's guess.
The Blue Devils have put together another great recruiting class, including
star freshman J.J. Reddick (15.8 points per game) and Shavlik Randolph
(10.0), to compliment upperclassmen like Chris Duhon (10.3) and Casey Sanders
(5.1). Duke has won 13 straight vs. Clemson, and there's no reason for the
casual observer to think tonight's outcome would be any different.
Except, perhaps, there has been nothing casual about the way the Tigers have
reached this point in 2003. The 9-0 start has come at the expense of a true
Can a dust-filled Littlejohn provide that missing ingredient?
We find out Sunday at 8:10 p.m.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Florence Morning News. 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.