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Changes looming for Brownell, Clemson men’s basketball

Clemson men’s basketball Head Coach Brad Brownell generated some buzz with his decision to hold a press conference at Littlejohn Coliseum just prior to the Orange and White spring football game a few weeks ago, but his decision to do so was understandable. 

Coming off of a frustrating season that saw the Tigers suffer many close defeats, and ultimately fall flat of what was widely expected to be their return to prominence, Brownell’s job status was up in the air. 

It has been made clear by Clemson Athletic Director Dan Radakovich that Brownell will return for the 2017-18 season, evinced by the coach’s recent contract extension through 2021. The reality that next year will mark the most critical year for Clemson’s basketball in quite some time has clearly set in for Brownell, who felt compelled to address a number of changes coming to the program in his talk with the media.

“Our numbers show that we were a very good basketball team this year, just short of our goal of making the NCAA Tournament,” Brownell told reporters, “and we need to do some things differently to get there. We need to find a way to get over the hump.”

The crux of Brownell’s rather lengthy opening statement, these statements are very telling, as they indicate a change in the trend of recent years for Clemson men’s basketball. While in years past, program leaders  attempted to fine-tune all of the pieces in place in the hopes of a better season, this year, Brownell is clearly willing to make significant changes in an effort to rejuvenate a basketball program stuck in a bit of

a lull.

Brownell announced at the media session the dismissal of Associate Head Coach Mike Winiecki, a somewhat jarring move since Winiecki had been coaching alongside Brownell for close to two decades. A demonstrative sign of the times, Winiecki’s departure is indicative of the quick culture changes needed to be made in order to both save Brownell’s job and right the ship for a team stuck in the middle of the pack of the incredibly deep ACC. Winiecki, who was responsible for the instruction of Clemson’s post players, evidently was not considered a commodity anymore after Clemson’s struggles down low this

past season.

Brownell also revealed that rising junior shooting guard Ty Hudson is transferring from Clemson, another negative and revealing announcement of the times. Hudson was one of the top recruits landed by Clemson since the Brownell era began and his role with the team never came to fruition, making his transfer relatively unsurprising. Clemson has had several young players transfer in recent years as the team has attempted to mold its identity. The current core group of players is going to have to be as committed as possible in order for this pressure-packed upcoming season to be a success.

Brownell is bringing in a solid recruiting class, highlighted by four-star small forward Aamir Simms, that is expected to bolster the Tigers’ veteran-laden roster this coming season. With early enrollee (and son of Clemson women’s basketball Head Coach Audra Smith) A.J. Oliver already in the fold, Simms and fellow Clemson commit Malik William should expect to become top contributors off of the bench for the Tigers from the get-go in the fall of 2017.

Part of the issue surrounding the Tigers’ lack of consistency that seemed to plague them this past season centered around the high degree of new faces playing major roles on the team. Former transfer Marcquise Reed served as the main scoring threat off of the bench in his first season of eligibility with the Tigers. In addition, Shelton Mitchell settled in as the starting point guard in his first season of eligibility for Clemson after transferring a few years ago. As a result, the Tigers showcased their inexperience in terms of playing together at times. Elijah Thomas, Clemson’s most talented big man from the recently-finished season, was not eligible to suit up for the Tigers until December due to NCAA transfer rules, and his season was dotted with up-and-down performances.

Adding to the consistency issues was an ill-timed knee injury suffered by Mitchell just prior to the start of the season. Even though he was able to return from it after recuperating for about a month, Mitchell appeared to be somewhat hampered by the injury for the season’s entirety. Brownell’s other major announcement concerning Mitchell’s upcoming knee surgery was not a surprise. 

This is all to say that, from the unbelievable array of heart-wrenchingly close losses in the ACC slate to Mitchell’s injury to the inconsistent play from inexperienced players, the Tigers were forced to deal with a gamut of issues that college basketball teams are not necessarily built to deal with all at once. The consensus feeling is that these unfortunate issues, all of which were out of Brownell’s control, form the basis of why Brownell is getting another chance. 

A solid coach who has displayed the ability to develop talent and build a core group of skilled team-first, two-way players throughout his time at the helm in Clemson, Brad Brownell definitely has what it takes to lead Clemson on a run in the Big Dance. It is just a matter of whether or not this perfect storm of expectations, pressure and change can pay dividends and prove to be the ultimate ingredient that incites a rejuvenation of a Clemson men’s basketball program on the cusp of something great.

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