Clemson coach Brad Brownell made it clear early in practice his team would not get a pass from opponents or excited fans simply because it will play all its games off campus.
Top-to-bottom renovations at Littlejohn Coliseum that won’t be complete until next season mean the Tigers will relocate to Greenville, South Carolina, about 30 miles northeast of campus. The arena has done its part to make the Tigers feel at home this winter with a special entrance and Clemson signage.
Brownell understands, though, his players won’t feel at home this fall.
“I told the guys early on that we’re not making any excuses for what we have to deal with this year,” the sixth-year coach said. “It’s challenge or opportunity, you can view it either way you want.”
There’s no doubt how Brownell sees it. He thinks the things that sunk his Tigers last season – Clemson was 14-9 in midseason and thinking postseason, but lost seven of their final nine games – have been corrected. He pointed to a pivotal home game in early February with ranked Notre Dame where Clemson held a 56-52 lead with four minutes left before losing 60-58.
Brownell said it was hard for his players, particularly senior point guard Rod Hall, to completely shake the defeat and get back to solid basketball.
“We had a little bit of hard rallying back and didn’t play as well as we wanted, at times,” he said.
Brownell’s challenge is to keep the Tigers energy high despite the regular road trips. The team held an intra-squad scrimmage this month at the Greenville building, which once hosted an NCAA tournament regional in 2002, to get used to the atmosphere.
“It was a little chilly,” Brownell joked. The building also hosts an ECHL hockey team.
Things to watch with Clemson this season:
BLOSSOMGAME’S GAME: Clemson junior Jaron Blossomgame is a 6-foot-7 leaper considered one of Brownell’s best recruits when he came to school three years ago. However, significant injuries have slowed his consistency and progress. Brownell believes that’s over and Blossomgame will show off similar skills that made Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels into an early entry NBA draft pick two years ago. Blossomgame led the Tigers with 13.1 points and 8.2 rebounds last season.
BACK COURT ISSUES: Clemson was led by Rod Hall at point guard thee past three seasons. The Tigers have several players looking to take his place. Jordan Roper, more of a shooter than passer, handled some of the backup duties last year and could see more time this season. The Tigers also add Avry Holmes, a transfer from San Francisco who sat out last season. Holmes was an West Coast Conference all-freshman pick in 2013 and started 35 of 62 games with the Dons.
A LEGEND AWAITS: Clemson got a boost this offseason from Legend Robertin, a 7-foot junior college transfer who gives the Tigers three centers 6-foot-10 or taller in starter Landry Nnoko and reserve Sidy Djitte. Robertin says he’s prepared to do what he’s asked of Clemson. If he does it well enough, that could make him a true Tiger Legend.
MORE TRANSFERS: Even more help for the Tigers is coming in 2016-17. The Tigers brought in transfers Marcquise Reed from Robert Morris and Shelton Mitchell from Vanderbilt this offseason. Both must sit out this year per NCAA rules but will practice with the Tigers. Reed was the Northeast Conference rookie of the year after leading Robert Morris with 15.1 points a game. Mitchell started 10 games his only season with the Commodores.
BORN TO RUN? Clemson coach Brad Brownell said his roster is versatile enough to push the pace more than it had in past seasons. The Tigers have been a defense-first, slow-it-down group most of Brownell’s time because it was the best way for them to compete. Brownell said his backcourt of Avry Holmes and Jordan Roper are more dynamic and will look to keep the game moving.