Dan Scott Interview: Oliver Purnell

by - Correspondent -

Dan Scott: Oliver Purnell with us, how are you doing?

Oliver Purnell: Really good. Really good, just, once again, we?ve been fortunate every year we?ve been up here. The weather gets better. We?ve had some great weather days up here. We?re sitting here under the veranda with a nice breeze and not a cloud in the sky and we?re just looking forward to a great day up here and share some ideas and a lot of fellowship.

DS: Yeah, and I understand you?re going to use the injured reserve excuse not to get out full-time on the course; you?re just going to putt today, right?

OP: Well, I?ve been playing so, so well. In fact, I was down to being a scratch golfer and now that I?ve got a little sprained ankle, I can just putt today. So, I won?t get to show these guys up.

DS: Now people would like to hear that the coach of their basketball team sprained his ankle working on some drills, or doing something in the gym that had some basketball related activity that might help the team win. But in truth you take a little bit of rest and recreation time for yourself and end up messing it up that way, don?t you?

OP: Yep, I was on my boat and went to jump across the rails instead of using the door, being lazy, and just rolled the thing. And I?m just trying to get it back to practice tomorrow. And that?s for sure. We want to be able to stand up for two or three hours, and move around, and it?s feeling pretty good, but I just think with that terrific back-swing that I have, where the club goes parallel to whatever it?s supposed to go to and as I rip it 300 yards down the fairway, it might put a little stress on that ankle. So, I decided not to mess with it.

DS: Not to take the chance. Probably a good thing. We have been talking with virtually your entire assistant coaching staff all day long and they?ve been setting you up as the evil genius for what they hope is going to be a fantastic season?I know you thought last year was the year to get to the NCAA Tournament. It didn?t happen. A whole lot of excitement again this year. Would it be fair to say there?s also a sense of urgency?

OP: I don?t know if urgency is the right word. I think it?s optimism. I think it?s confidence, acquired confidence, in what this team is capable of. We go from this point, do a lot of work, and come together. When we look at the pieces on this team and we look at the experiences that we?ve had and we look at the we?ve played in stretches, including at the end of last year and the beginning of last year, we?re very confident in our ability to have an outstanding season. We think the sky?s the limit.

DS: You start with the building blocks that you brought in here: your first recruiting class. Sam, James and of course Cliff. We?ve talked with the other guys here today. College basketball has changed so much now with the young guys going in for a year or two and then taking off. For you to have three seniors like that to draw from a leadership standpoint, that?s almost an advantage for you going into this season.

OP: It?s a tremendous advantage. And you throw KC Rivers in there, who?s a very experienced junior, our leading returning scorer, we do have experience. And that?s a huge advantage for us. I think most coaches would love to return all of their scholarship players except for one to approach next year. And I?m not exception to that. I think that?s a huge advantage for us. I love our wings. I think our wings are as good as anybody in the country. When you have Cliff Hammonds, our senior returning captain who I think is one of the most underrated players in the country, I think if he can get his free throws up to being respectable, he?s a heck of a player. And we expect that from him. He?s done everything we?ve ever asked him to do. He?s such a great example. We can put him in front of our team and say, ?This is how you?re supposed to do it. This is how hard you?re supposed to work. This is the respect that you give your teammates and people outside of our program,? and all of those things. That?s big to have a captain that sets that kind of example.

KC Rivers, I can?t say enough about his ability. People think of him as a long-range shooter, but he can do so much more. He can get you 12-13 rebounds. He can take you off the dribble, much like he did winning the game up at Virginia Tech last year. When he needs to run the court and anticipate defenses, our wings are as good as anybody. I would trade our wings for anybody. And then you look at our posts with Mays and Booker. Booker had a very, very solid freshman year. He was very consistent. Coming back bigger and stronger, I think he?s a guy that we get him the ball down low in the sweet spot, he?s a go-to guy. He can?t be handled down there on a consistent basis. He, like Cliff, needs to get his free throws up, because down the stretch, they?re going to double down or foul and he?s got to do that. He?s been working it and Cliff?s been working it and I think those guys will.

No one affects the game, when he?s right, anymore than James Mays, in a positive way. Shot-blocking, running the court, deflections, offensive rebounding, head of the press, tap dunking and him understanding that that?s what makes him great, that is what facilitates his offense as well. It?s important, and he got away from that a little bit for a five or six game stretch in which we all struggled. It wasn?t just him. We all struggled. And when he got back to doing all that, we started playing better. And we saw the result in our run in the NIT. So I love our post guys. You throw in the mix there Raymond Sykes, who really started to come on in the NIT. He?s getting better everyday in front of our eyes. You know, 6?9?, shot-blocking and he?s a junior. We really like him, and Sam Perry?s won a lot of games for us starting. As a defensive guy, as an energy guy, he?s a senior now. He feels with this being his last go-round, his last opportunity to do something big with this group. There?s another experienced guy.

Julius Powell is a little bit of a wild card. We hope to get him all the way back to his freshman form. He?s had two knee surgeries, both scopes, the last one was just a clean out. He?s started practice with us, not at 100%, but we think he?s ready to move toward that. We think he?s a little bit of a wild card and we?ll have to just wait and see. Karolis Petrukonis played with his national team this summer. He?s much improved, probably outside of that group right now, but I think we?re going to be 10-deep. I think you?re going to see guys moving in and out of that during the course of the year because we?ve got good kids that work hard and our coaches are going to coach them hard and you?re going to see that happen. Matt Morris gave us spot-minutes last year. He?s back and available. We put him on scholarship this year because of how hard he?s worked for us. He gives us some long range shooting against the zone and that kind of thing. He?s smart, a great team guy.

And then you talk about the freshmen. Obviously Demontez Stitt is very, very important for us. With losing Vernon, we need some valuable contribution and minutes from him. He could give us a Booker-type year at that position, and that?s hard to do, and then we?re golden. We need good point guard play. And having said that, we can play with KC Rivers, Cliff Hammonds, Sam Perry and David Potter. He?s another guy that played well in the NIT and won a couple of games for us. He?s now ready to assume his real position in the rotation. And then you?ve got Terrance Oglesby who showed us in the 10 days of practice that he?s what we thought he was, in terms of being a long-range shooter, he?s really done a great job in that area. He?s getting better at defense. He couldn?t spell it when we started and now he?s getting much better and more aggressive on that end. And he wants to do it, it?s just a matter of understanding. He wasn?t asked to do it.

And then Jerai Grant, we like his upside. I likened him to Ray Sykes, much further ahead than Ray was. I likened him to his father and his uncle when he came here. He?s got that raw potential, but got a ways to go. We want him in that rotation and contributing this year because of what we?ve seen in the preseason. He gives us another long body like we like. And I?m sure I left out one other guy, but we?ve got 12 guys that we like and can move in and out of that 10-man rotation. We just weren?t that deep last year. We talk about the experience, but we?re also deep, we feel.

Tom Van Hoy: Coach, by chance or by design you were able to have the 10 days of practice and go the Bahamas and have the opportunity to get the young guys involved?

OP: No, it?s something that two and a half to three years ago, we made the decision that this way the year to go. We know you can go every four years and we saw a situation where we thought we?d have an experienced team back, that we?d be a little young at the point, and we decided this would be a good year to go. And then we made a decision about a year ago to go to the Bahamas because we could take the freshmen. If we would?ve gone in the dead of summer we wouldn?t have been able to take the freshmen. Obviously, that?s important to us because we expect a strong contribution from those young men.

TVH: Coach, the way you play and you just mentioned the number of guys, everybody that?s coming back and coming in, the way you play, do you need to have 8-10 guys that you can rotate in and out of there?

OP: Yeah, if you?re going to be able to effect that style against people, if you?re going to be able to pressure people all game long and be effective, and reduce the number of times that you get hurt by your pressure, that happens. That?s a part of pressure defense. You?re going to give up lay-ups. You?re going to give up easy baskets sometimes. And you want to reduce those and a lot of times it?s fatigue that causes you to have more of those. You just don?t get that deflection. You don?t quite get that pressure on the ball. The trap is not as tight. And we want to have that happening all the time. Many people play under duress. They?re fatigue hurts them more than ours hurts us. And with our style, that?s essential.

DS: Oliver Purnell with us with about three minutes left in the program, and we?ve had an enjoyable day talking basketball at The Reserve at Lake Keowee on top of this mountain here on this beautiful, beautiful golf course. As you get set for year number 5, the progress of building this program or rebuilding this program, trying to bring about a renaissance in Clemson Basketball, are you satisfied with where you are after four years?

OP: I really am. Our goal, as we start the season, is the win the National Championship. And I couldn?t have realistically stated that goal until now. Now having said that, that?s hard. That?s hard to do. You have to get the NCAA Tournament to start with. You?ve got to get a good draw. You?ve got to squeak by a couple of tight games and now you?re in the mix of things. In the state of college basketball today, in my opinion, we should shoot for that. And when you have teams like George Mason going to the Final Four and so on and so forth, it?s hard, because it?s hard getting to the NCAA Tournament out of the ACC. My view is this year it?s North Carolina and then the rest of us. And I think we?re in the top of the rest of us, but not by much. And I think we?re all bunched up there together and then all the sudden you?re in the bottom of the rest of us, you?re struggling to get into the NCAA Tournament, as we?ve seen the last couple of years.

But this team has good pieces, really, really good pieces as you look at what we need. You sit there and write on paper what you need. We need post players. We need long-range shooters. We good wings, rebounders, quickness for your style, shoot free throws better. You need good point guard play. And certainly there are a couple of question marks that we?ve got to sure up in order to make that a reality. When you look at last year and you look at the start and maybe we squandered a few games at the free throw line. You look at how we?ve got 12 or 13 guys back. When you look at it that way, the logic starts to appear to you. I think the problem some people have with it is kind of backlash or Clemson tradition or whatever. I don?t suffer from that. I?ve only been here four years. The same things I saw that made me come here and feel like we could be an ACC power, a national power in basketball, are here. I?m starting to see some of those things. I?m starting to see some of the fruits from our labor.

DS: A couple of things very quickly as we wind it up. First of all, Ron and Frank mentioned a different approach on the free throw shooting this year. Can you briefly explain what the different approach is, other than making them?

OP: Haha, well first of all, we?ve had more time to work on it. We started with an emphasis on it last spring when we filmed each guy and really broke it down mechanically. We?ve come to accept responsibility and be held accountable to make free throws, each individual guy. You?re responsible for getting in more reps. We?ve put Coach Ron Bradley in charge of, if you will, the free throw shooting. So he?s got to focus everyday on what we could do today to make ourselves better at free throw shooting. What are we going to do this week to make sure we get plenty of not just reps, but pressure work and situational work where we?re put in certain situations and so on and so forth. And finally and probably the most important thing is that we?ve recruited two more shooters. Oglesby shot them well. He?s made 33 out of 35 in a game. He?s an 80% shooter. Stitt?s an 80% shooter. He?s at the point guard position. Who are they going to foul late? They?re going to foul the guards. As good as Vernon was, as many games as he won for us, he was a 55% free throw shooter. So I think there are a lot of reasons for optimism in that area. I say again, recruit better shooters and it?s easier. But it?s also anytime you emphasize something, anytime you work at something, you should get better at it.

DS: We?ve got 30 seconds, so as practice opens this weekend, name your top two or 3 priorities that you want to get done.

OP: I think just setting the tone. We?re actually going to start tomorrow because we?ve got two hours of individual work that we can have all 15 guys out on the floor. So we can start tomorrow. And we probably had two or three intense days over those 10 days of practice, but starting tomorrow, they?re all intense. So just kind of setting the tone there. I think the key is to get back to where we were before we went to the Bahamas. Get all of that stuff kind of solid and I think we can do that in a couple of days or three days. We?ve got two practices on Saturday so by Sunday we should be ready to have that stuff in place and really start to move on and put new things in and that kind of thing. But I think that just setting the tone for intensity, establishing again that we?re responsible and accountable for stepping up to the free throw line and knocking down shots, and certainly making everybody understand that we have a defensive emphasis. That?s what makes us good. That?s what puts us at the table and in the game. Those are table setters. We cannot be in the game without that.

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