Brad Brownell expecting big off-season strides from Nnoko, Ajukwa

'If they're practicing every day against good players...(they're) getting better.'

N.C. State's Desmond Lee (5) tries to drive under the basket between Clemson's Austin Ajukwa (1) and Landry Nnoko, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Photo by Mark Crammer

N.C. State's Desmond Lee (5) tries to drive under the basket between Clemson's Austin Ajukwa (1) and Landry Nnoko, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

As the Clemson men's basketball team turns its attention to off-season improvement, two names jump out to coach Brad Brownell as players poised to make major leaps: Landry Nnoko and Austin Ajukwa.

Nnoko has already taken a significant stride, and Brownell says he believes the big man is ready for another.

"Landry made great strides," Brownell said. "I'm unbelievably pleased with the steps he made, and I thought he had a good sophomore season. We saw his confidence continue to grow."

Statistically, Nnoko improved his per-game averages from 6.6 minutes, 1.0 point and 1.4 rebounds, with nine total blocked shots, to 28.1 minutes, 6.5 points and 6.2 rebounds, with 69 blocked shots.

He scored in double figures in five of the Tigers' final 11 games.

Brownell said he wasn't surprised by the jump made by the 6-10 Nnoko, a native of Cameroon who came to Clemson by way of Montverde Academy in Florida.

"I said this last year, but I don't think anybody believed me: that we had a lot more confidence in our post players than most people knew," Brownell said. "They were better than (most) guys who only got to play five or six minutes (as freshmen). They were just playing behind guys who were good players, and those guys were better.

"Devin Booker was a lot better than Landry as a freshman, and Landry wasn't nearly as good as he is now. That's to be expected for young players, especially big guys. Big guys just take time.

"People think that you need to have them in there doing all the game stuff, but not has much. If they're practicing every day against good players - if Landry's playing every day against Devin Booker - then he's getting better. If he can score in practice against Devin, and if he can get rebounds, then he's going to be fine."

Coming into the season, Brownell said he expected Nnoko to provide rebounding and a strong inside defensive presence, and he was pleased by what Nnoko was able to contribute offensively.

"We felt that he'd come in (last season) and defend and rebound pretty well," he said. "Now, I'd like to see those rebounds go up just a little, and obviously he's got to continue to improve his back-to-the-basket scoring. He needs to become more comfortable and more fluid.

"He improved this year a lot, and I would anticipate that he will continue to improve.

Brownell described the 6-5 Ajukwa as a still-developing player with a significant "up-side."

"I think Austin is a guy who could take another step, and needs to take a big step," Brownell said. "He's a talented kid in terms of athleticism, and he has a pretty good skill set. He has good confidence offensively in his abilities."

Ajukwa, a Columbia, S.C. Cardinal Newman High product who chose Clemson in a head-to-head recruiting battle with South Carolina, averaged 7.5 minutes per game as a freshman, and contributed several key three-pointers over the course of the season.

Over time, Brownell says Ajukwa's development will be aided by playing consistently against a high level of competition.

"Austin needs toughness and strength, and he needs to really compete at a high level all the time, just to bring it out of him," Brownell said. "I think there's some talent there that you really like to see as a coach. There's an up-side there that if he can get it going in the right direction for a while, he has a chance to make a big step. We're optimistic with that."

Follow Kerry Capps on Twitter @oandwkc

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Comments » 1

lhaselden writes:

I think Brownell is the best we have had at developing talent in my memory. I hope we can keep him for a long time.

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