Fledgling freshmen: Brad Brownell finds that 'each guy runs his own race'

With five more first-year players arriving in July, coach knows that development is unpredictable

Virginia Tech's Dorian Finney-Smith, left, runs up court with Clemson's Rod Hall during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Thursday, Mar. 1, 2012 in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Photo by Mark Crammer

Virginia Tech's Dorian Finney-Smith, left, runs up court with Clemson's Rod Hall during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Thursday, Mar. 1, 2012 in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

When Clemson’s five first-year men’s basketball freshmen arrive next July, they’ll have plenty to learn and a very similar five-man sophomore peer group to help them with their adjustment.

This year’s freshmen group may have also taught Brad Brownell a thing or two about what to expect when post players Landry Nnoko and Josh Smith, guards Jordan Roper and Adonis Filer, and wing man Jaron Blossomgame step on the court for the first time.

“I think they all have things they bring to the table that we feel good about,” said Brownell on Wednesday, as he wrapped up Clemson’s 2011-12 season and began looking ahead to 2012-13.

“The hard part is in knowing who’ll respond to this level and the coaching that they get here - the information that we throw at them and whether they’re ready physically, how they’ll handle for the first time in their lives, competing against guys who are better than they are. Will they handle it well and thrive in it, compete more, or will they give in, pout and struggle? It takes some guys longer and each guy runs his own race.”

This season, Rod Hall and T.J. Sapp broke quickly from the starting gate, while Devin Coleman, K.J. McDaniels and Bernard Sullivan found the going slower.

“Rod Hall was the most complete guy in the freshman class and got consistent playing time, and he did have spots he played a lot more than he should have,” Brownell said.

“Devin is an example of a guy who had a lot to learn, and he really realized it. He struggled with it for a long time, got down on himself, gave into it and wasn’t making any progress.

“Around Christmas he came back with a better attitude, got it figured out, started practicing better, his effort was more consistent as he played better and his confidence came back. He made a shot or two and felt pretty good about himself and started doing better.”

So the first question to be answered by next year’s freshman, Brownell said, is “are they going to respond right away?”

“That’s the part you don’t know and those are the question marks,” he said.

That being said, Brownell has high hopes for an instant impact, especially from Roper and Filer as they compete with Hall for playing time at point guard.

“Those are the three guys most likely competing for point guard minutes,” Brownell said. “You can put a couple guys out there – Rod could play with Adonis or Jordan. Rod is so strong he can guard a lot of different people. He’s pretty good against pressure teams, with his body and strength, it gives him a way to handle things.

“He’s not as good when you play zone and pack it in more, (because) his shooting is not what it needs to be. But he’s a versatile guy, a junkyard dog you can use in a lot of different situations.

“Hopefully Adonis and Jordan will be two good players. Jordan needs strength but has the athleticism to make shots and shoot behind screens. Whether he’ll do it as a freshman I don’t know, but he has the ability.

“Adonis is a mix. He’s a pretty tough kid, stronger body type than Jordan, not as big as Rod. He’s ready to handle the rigors. He’s played a lot of good basketball and we’re optimistic he’ll be ready to handle this right away.”

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