CLEMSON — Brad Brownell saw it coming.
“When you’re around guys a lot,” Clemson’s third-year head coach said Thursday, “you see things that are problematic.”
He knew sophomore guard T.J. Sapp was struggling with his shot and being pushed by younger teammates like Adonis Filer and Jordan Roper.
So even though Sapp started the Tigers’ first seven games, did his transfer surprise Brownell?
“Not really,” Brownell said.
“I like T.J. a lot,” Brownell said. “He’s a great kid. He’s a hard worker. But when you have a team like ours with players so close together all the time, that much competition, they all look around and see that it’s about the same, there’s no clear guy, and everyone thinks they’re deserving, there’s going to be some turnover. That’s the way it’s becoming.”
Sapp is the fourth guard to transfer from Clemson in Brownell’s two-plus seasons. Guards Noel Johnson and Donte Hill – Oliver Purnell recruits – left for Auburn and Old Dominion, respectively, in December 2010. Cory Stanton transferred to Lipscomb following the 2009-10 season. He then left for Tennessee, then left UT for a Division II or NAIA school.
Brownell said playing time complaints are just a part of basketball culture nowadays.
“It’s not just college, it’s AAU and high school,” he said. “Every kid wants to play 30 minutes a night. The thing you learn as a coach is you give your team a piece of paper, tell them to write their name and the minutes they want to play, or give each guy a piece of paper. There are 200 minutes in a game, and inevitably you’ll get back a piece of paper with 400 on it.
“There’s no way to do it, good or bad. It’d be nice if we were in a situation where in my third year we have a lot of older, more experienced guys, and there was a clear definition between players. We have two seniors, no juniors, the rest are freshman and sophomores. There’s a lot of looking around. It’ll be that way for a while. Guys are going to be unhappy sometimes.”
Brownell’s motion offense system can also require a learning curve.
“Guys want to make plays right away, off the first ball screen,” he said. “If you make a play for a screener, you move the defense, make them understand you’re going to grind on them a bit. Same thing off a down screen – they want to score off the first screen. Use it to get the ball moving. You have to trust you’ll get it back. They don’t play that way often. In AAU, high school, the ball doesn’t move that much. The guy who wants to make the play gets it.”
Sapp started all seven games but played only 15.1 minutes per game, scoring 3.6 points per game and hitting 22 percent of his 3-pointers (4 for 18). He was being pushed by Filer (21.7 mpg, 7.6 ppg) and Roper (15.1 mpg, 4.9 ppg).
Brownell said sophomore Damarcus Harrison (18.4 mpg, 6.1 ppg) will start Saturday vs. No.8 Arizona, but said it will “depend on how the next couple of practices go.”
“As evidenced by what happened, with a guy who was starting leaving, it’s more where your minutes come in a game,” he said. “It’s about finishing to me. Some of that is more important, getting in a rhythm. Damarcus would be a logical guy to start, he’s the guy we’re leaning to start.”
All of the Tigers’ young guards – Harrison, Roper, Filer and Rod Hall – will play, though.
“They’re playing a lot of minutes already,” he said. “I don’t know if those guys are ready to play much more than 30 minutes in a game, they’re young players. Sometimes guys aren’t ready for all that. We’ll give Adonis, Roper and Damarcus more chances. I don’t know how it’ll play out. It’ll depend on how they play and do what they’re supposed to.”