Brad Brownell says freshmen big men Nnoko, Smith already making Tigers better

'In basketball, you need a couple of guys who are willing to go in there and grind it up'

Clemson freshman Landry Nnoko, left, holds the ball while being guarded by Bernard Sullivan as they scrimmage during the Rock the 'John event at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson Friday night as the Clemson men's and women's basketball teams tip off practice for their 2012-13 seasons.

Mark Crammer Independent Mail

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson freshman Landry Nnoko, left, holds the ball while being guarded by Bernard Sullivan as they scrimmage during the Rock the 'John event at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson Friday night as the Clemson men's and women's basketball teams tip off practice for their 2012-13 seasons. Mark Crammer Independent Mail

As he wrapped up his preview of his team on basketball media day, Brad Brownell brought it to attention that in 30 minutes, no one had asked him anything about the Tigers' two freshmen big men.

Penciled in behind Devin Booker and Milt Jennings on the Tigers' front line, 6-10 Landry Nnoko and 6-8 Josh Smith will be playing supportive roles this season.

But that, said Brownell, makes them no less important - for now, or in the future.

"I really like our freshmen big kids," Brownell offered. "They're both very eager, and they're both hard workers."

Brownell sees both players as diamonds in the rough.

Nnoko is relatively young in the game, having moved from the soccer field during his high school years in Cameroon. He's played just three seasons of organized basketball, including two years at Montverde Academy in Florida under Kevin Boyle, one of the nation's top high school coaches.

The cousin of Milwaukee Bucks player Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Nnoko is expected to add immediate shot-blocking ability to the Tigers' front line.

"Landry can really run," said Brownell. "He's 6-10 and has the size, at 240, to contribute as a freshman. For a guy who's only played three years of basketball, his understanding is pretty good. He has size, is coachable, and he wants to learn.

"He takes up space, and we definitely needed that. I'm encouraged by how hard he plays."

Nnoko takes a realistic view of where he stands in his development as a player.

"I can be a rim protector, by rebounding and blocking shots," Nnoko said. "I will continue to develop by offensive game over the coming years...But my ability to play defense is what will get me on the court faster than anything else."

The 6-8, 255-pound Smith was recruited by Brownell to fill what he sees as a specific role.

"Josh isn't maybe the prototypical size that you would love, but he's physical and likes to throw his body around," Brownell said. "That's hard to find these days. There aren't a lot of kids who embrace physicality.

"You see that in football sometimes, too - just doing the nasty things. People don't like to do that any more. It's the same in basketball - everybody wants to go out and shoot on the perimeter, just like everybody wants to pass it (in football), nobody wants to just grind it up.

"In basketball, you need a couple of guys who are willing to go in there and grind it up."

With good hands and passing skills, Smith complements other players well. He showed some of what he can do close to the basket when he earned North Carolina MVP honors at the Carolinas All-Star Classic after scoring 18 points and pulled down 13 rebounds.

From day-one, Brownell said that Nnoko and Smith have made the Tigers a better team.

"Both those kids are going to be good for Milt and Devin, because when they come to practice, those are guys are going to really practice," Brownell said. "These aren't typical 6-10, 210-pound big kids that they can just push around all day.

"Milt and Devin are going to have to really work, and that's going to be good for everybody."

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