CLEMSON — Head coaches are always anxious for their seasons to begin, and Brad Brownell is the perfect example.
With 11 scholarship freshmen and sophomores populating his Clemson men’s basketball roster, the Tigers’ head coach starts his third season at the program’s helm with far more questions than answers.
He can start answering them – and teaching from lessons learned – at 7 p.m. Monday. Clemson welcomes Presbyterian to Littlejohn Coliseum for both teams’ season opener in what should be an instructive evening.
“We need to play other people, get game experience, and use the videotape to show our guys,” Brownell said. “You show them in practice, they’re good with that for a while, all of a sudden when it’s another person, you try and tell them, ‘You’re not going to be able to do that when we play against good people.’ It doesn’t always ring true in practice. When you show them in a game, sometimes that coaching rings a little truer.”
In games, Brownell said, consequences of actions are real.
“In practice you can make them run a sprint or say we can’t have that,” he said. “When you’re on the court, you make some bad plays, get taken out of the game, that resonates the best. We need some of that to be able to send the right messages to our players.”
Counting walk-on Carson Fields, 12 of Clemson’s 14 players are freshmen or sophomores, the most since freshmen became eligible for the 1972-73 season. Sophomore guard Devin Coleman will likely redshirt after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in offseason workouts, and freshman guard/forward Jaron Blossomgame could also redshirt after being slow to recover from a compound leg fracture suffered this spring.
Due to the extreme youth, the learning curve has been a bit slower.
“I can remember last year, having plays in a whole lot earlier,” said forward Milton Jennings, one of two seniors on the roster alongside fellow forward Devin Booker. “That’s expected. You have four seniors, two juniors and a few freshmen like we did last year, you’re able to do that. This year we have two seniors, so we had to do less.”
Among the healthy freshmen, point guard Adonis Filer and center Landry Nnoko have stood out; both hit double figures in last week’s 72-42 exhibition rout of Lander. Filer says college hoops is “way different, the pace, the players, it’s not as easy as it is in high school.”
College life, he said, has required an adjustment period.
“For me, it’s been rough,” Filer said. “You’ve got to come in here, know your schoolwork, know times and on top of that you’ve got to come in and learn the plays. That’s a lot of different things. It’s rough but you’ve got to push through and learn it. If you don’t learn, you’re not going to play.”
Brownell says his team needs to work on its execution, but has been better defensively than offensively.
Clemson has won 27 consecutive openers, and has not played the Blue Hose since taking a 43-point win to open the 2009-10 season.
Still, the overwhelming youth on his roster leaves Brownell nervous.
He’s just ready to get going.
“These games are dangerous games,” he said. “When you’re this young, you’re not exactly sure as a head coach who’s going to play well, what lineups are going to work well together. You haven’t worked on all the things you need to work on in a situation where this early in the season.”