TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Brad Brownell’s inaugural voyage at the Clemson basketball program’s helm might get worse before it gets much better.
Following a disappointing 75-69 ACC-opening loss to Florida State Sunday night, Brownell revealed that his top scorer – senior guard Demontez Stitt – has been playing through significant pain in his left knee.
And Stitt, who led all scorers with 18 points, said he has been battling inflammation under his kneecap and expects to have arthroscopic surgery today, which could sideline him for two weeks.
Stitt had minor surgery on the knee as a freshman, and has had it drained several times over the last month. He said he has “ a little bit of inflammation under my kneecap they can’t get to with the needles.”
“I think something loose is irritating it,” he said. “I’ve been trying to play through the discomfort, had it drained a couple times in the past couple weeks. The inflammation keeps coming back, and I think it’s under the kneecap. We can’t get it drained.”
Following the transfers of guards Noel Johnson and Donte Hill, the Tigers were already down to nine scholarship players and four scholarship guards – Stitt, junior Andre Young, junior Tanner Smith and freshman Cory Stanton. Walk-on Xavier Anderson also played three minutes Sunday, committing two fouls and a turnover while grabbing one rebound.
If Stitt sits, the others’ minutes will increase, too.
“We’ve tried to nurse him through things, and I don’t know if he’s improving well enough,” Brownell said. “He didn’t practice much this week and we wanted to see if it’d do him some good. He did play reasonably well, and we’ll see what the doctors say when we get back.”
If Stitt has surgery, the goal will be to get him back healthy by the time Clemson returns to ACC play Jan. 8, hosting Miami. Between now and then, the Tigers face the softest part of their schedule, hosting Savannah State, UNC-Greensboro, Delaware State, East Carolina and The Citadel, and traveling to College of Charleston Dec. 22.
“It seems like every time I turn around, he has to drain his knee,” Young said. “He’s definitely a big part of our team, one of our leaders, it’d definitely be a big hit for us. We want the best for him and want him to get healthy soon.”
For his part, Stitt downplayed the pain, calling it “just a little bit of discomfort.”
“We’ll see how surgery goes,” he said, “and hopefully have a speedy recovery.”
Booker booms while Jennings goes bust: Entering Sunday, sophomore forward Devin Booker had underperformed, scoring just six points over 63 minutes in his last three games. Looking for a spark, Brownell sat him for the first time this season, starting fellow sophomore Milton Jennings in his place.
He got what he wanted from Booker, who scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
Not so much from Jennings, who missed all 10 shots he took – all in the first half – and looked tentative, missing a variety of shots, from 3-pointers to a running dunk.
“Milt had some good play and practiced well at times, and we were trying to get Devin going – he played well,” Brownell said. “They’re both going to play about the same minutes, but it’d have been nice for Milton to have a better game. He couldn’t get himself going.”
“I guess you could say I was in a slump, but this was a game where I had to step up. I did that,” Booker said. “We just couldn’t pull it out as a team.”