CLEMSON — Before this season began, common wisdom held that Clemson would go as far as its senior forwards would take it.
With Christmas approaching, here’s a thought: the Tigers will only do as much as their young guards will allow.
Nine games in, senior forwards Devin Booker and Milton Jennings are fine. But Brad Brownell’s young guards give serious reason for excitement.
Saturday’s 80-57 post-final exams win over Florida A&M provides the perfect example. Guards Jordan Roper, K.J. McDaniels, Adonis Filer and Rod Hall combined for 47 points with 13 assists against six turnovers.
The Rattlers are hardly an ACC-level team, but Clemson will need more performances like those if it hopes to make an impact in the ACC this season.
“There’s some going through the fire for K.J., Rod, Jordan and Adonis,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Their roles have changed. In the second half of games last year, Tanner Smith and Andre Young were doing a lot. They’re not here anymore. It falls to those guys. Last year, Rod and K.J. were big in some games, and in others they didn’t play much at all. Now they have to be primary players.”
Filer and Roper have been impressive as shooting guards. T.J. Sapp saw the writing (and decreased minutes) on the wall and transferred two weeks ago. Roper was impressive in his first career start Saturday, nailing four of five 3-pointers and scoring 16 points.
Filer has shown a nice touch as well as a willingness to go to the hole, much like Demontez Stitt did for Clemson’s NCAA Tournament teams of the recent past.
McDaniels has amazing athleticism and jumping ability; Saturday, he battled through a stomach virus for 11 points and six rebounds, including a pair of highlight-reel dunks.
“They’ve got to make big shots, baskets and plays,” Brownell said. “They’re being asked to guard another primary player now. We have sophomores who have been vaulted into that role. It’s a process and those guys have improved greatly. Hopefully they’ll continue to take the next step over the next month.”
With BYU transfer Damarcus Harrison in the rotation, Clemson’s two best big men are seniors, while its top four guards are all freshmen and sophomores. It is not an enviable position, but Brownell is doing the best he can with it – and having young guards with such potential helps greatly.
“We’re in the position where the guards are young and the big guys are older,” he said. “Next year we’ll lose the big guys and the guards will be older and the big guys will be young. We need to get everyone with the same ability at some point, but the guards are catching up to those older players. Hopefully soon. They’re playing with confidence and playing well.”