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Thoughts on Clemson Basketball and Brad Brownell

Streeter Lecka

I wanted to post an article clarifying my stance on the current state of Clemson’s basketball program. There has been a lot said in the comment sections recently. Some people think Brownell should be given more time while some are calling for his head. Those calling for his head think STS is being too soft on the basketball programs. I thought it would be easier if I put my comprehensive thoughts into one article rather than scattered over multiple threads. I’m going to run through a list of criticisms and conversations we’ve had during the course of this basketball season and give my thoughts on those subjects. Take them for what they’re worth. I’m by no means an expert on building a basketball program and I don’t pretend to be. I do, however, enjoy the game and follow it very closely. I’m just like any other blogger out on the net and my opinions are just that, opinions. But I also try to come to conclusions based on facts.

1. Why is STS so tough on our football program but so soft when it comes to our basketball program?

Clemson has a storied football history, invests heavily into their program with well paid coaches and support staff, and they have top notch facilities. The game day atmosphere for Clemson football is a phenomenal experience with 80,000 screaming fans. It can give recruits goosebumps on their goosebumps. The same can’t be said about Clemson’s basketball program. There is little storied history with Clemson basketball, facilities are way behind those of top notch programs, and Clemson has proven that it isn’t going to spend top money to field a staff. Clemson has only finished .500 or better in the ACC in 16 out of their 60 seasons. The game day atmosphere is severely lacking year in and year out for all games that aren’t against UNC or Duke. I believe Clemson has the best game day atmosphere in the ACC for football as well one of the best in country. The atmosphere for basketball games falls into the bottom half of the conference. This is important because it has a large influence on selling the school to potential recruits.

2. Why does STS keep using youth as an excuse? Kentucky wins with freshmen every year.

I feel like this question doesn't even need to be answered. We’re not Kentucky and we’ll never be Kentucky. Kentucky is the winningest program in college basketball history and hand picks 5 of the best recruits in the country every year. They churn out #1 overall picks and 1st round picks like nobody else. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel – all of these guys would’ve gone straight to the pros if there wasn’t a rule in place to prevent it. Kentucky is the exception to the rule.

Check out the ACC standings for proof that experience matters:

Miami – 5 of their top 6 scorers are seniors. Four of those seniors are 5th year seniors. They are the oldest team in the country.

Duke – Top 3 scorers are seniors.

Virginia – Top 2 scorers are juniors and they have a senior PG in Jontel Evans. When Evans was injured during non-conference play and UVA was forced to play freshman Teven Jones, they lost to George Mason, Delaware, and ODU (who only has 3 wins on the year).

NC State – NC State starts 2 seniors, 2 juniors, and a freshman. When junior PG Lorenzo Brown went down with an ankle injury and they were forced to play freshman PG Tyler Lewis, they lost 3 straight conference games.

UNC – What would seemingly be a decent year for most teams is a very down year in Chapel Hill. The reason? Experience. UNC starts 1 senior, 1 junior, 2 sophomores, and a freshman PG.

I could go through the top 25 or all the other conferences, but I think you get the point. Experience matters. Clemson, Wake Forest, and BC are the only teams in the ACC with only 2 upperclassmen or less on their roster. Not surprisingly, they sit at 8th, 9th, and 11th in the ACC standings. Clemson isn’t just one of the youngest teams in the ACC, they are one of the youngest teams in the country.

3. How come Tony Bennett is able to be successful at UVA while Clemson is struggling with Brownell?

For starters, Tony Bennett is in his 4th season at UVA and Brad Brownell is only in his 3rd season. Tony Bennett’s ACC finishes in his first 3 years? T-9th, T-7th, and T-4th with one NCAA appearance. His team has really taken off in his 4th year when his first full recruiting class has reached upperclassmen status. His two best players are Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, both juniors. Why not give Brownell the same benefit of the doubt and let his recruits become upperclassmen?

Additionally, UVA has shown a willingness to really invest in their basketball program. Tony Bennett makes $1.7M annually. Brad Brownell was hired at $900k and received a $300k bump after his successful first season to get him to $1.2M, which is 42% less than Bennett.

UVA also invested $131M to build John Paul Jones Arena, which is one of the nicest venues in the country. As a result of having such nice facilities, the NBA Top 100 Camp for the top 100 high school recruits is held on UVA’s campus at JPJ Arena. If you think Clemson’s football camps and cookouts are a good recruiting tool, imagine if Clemson were able to host a Rivals100 event on their campus where all the top football recruits came in to compete for a week. How big of an advantage would that be? UVA is taking advantage of the situation, inking 3 consensus top 100 players in the 2012 class and 1 more in the 2013 class.

UVA is a on the right side of the bubble right now, but don’t let their conference record fool you because they have some very bad losses that really hurt their resume. Their conference slate gets more difficult from here as well and they’ll be fighting the bubble battle the rest of the way. The reason I bring this up is because I think in year 4 under Brownell that Clemson will be in a similar situation. I’m not sure whether or not Clemson will be a tournament team next year or not, but I honestly believe on February 16th 2014 we’ll at least be in the bubble discussion. And that’s what Bennett has done for UVA in his 4th year. Lets give Brownell the benefit of the doubt and let him prove himself in year 4 much the same way Bennett has done this year.

4. Brownell was only able to win with Purnell’s players

You could make that statement about any new coach winning ball games in their first season because they are always going to be the other coach’s players. But the fact of the matter is that Clemson improved between OP’s last season and Brownell’s first season, despite losing their best player and 1st team All-ACC performer Trevor Booker. They finished 6th place in the ACC the year before Brownell arrived and finished 4th place in his first season, despite losing their best player.

Look, I don’t believe OP was a bad coach by any means (although his record at DePaul disagrees), but I think he was butting his head up against his proverbial ceiling of what he was going to accomplish at Clemson. OP’s last season culminated in an ACC tournament loss to 11th seeded NC State and a 1st Round tournament loss to 10th seeded Michigan. This was fitting of OP’s teams, starting fast and finishing with a whimper. In BB’s first season he led Clemson into the semifinals of the ACC tournament before losing a heartbreaker in OT against #1 seed UNC. They also won one of the new play-in games in the NCAA tournament. Before you poopoo the fact that it was a play-in game, remember that Clemson beat a fellow 12 seed by 20 points. This wasn’t 1-16 matchup. And just a few years prior OP lost to 12 seeded Villanova when Clemson was a 5 seed (blowing a 20 point 1st half lead). Overall he was 0-3 in the NCAA tournament while at Clemson, and each time Clemson was the lower seed.

5. Why do you blame OP for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 teams?

I’m not soley blaming OP. I think it’s a combination of OP and the collateral damage that comes with a coaching change. OP did some good things while he was at Clemson, but leaving behind a talented freshman class was not one of them. Brownell came into a situation where OP’s last recruiting class consisted of Jennings, Booker, Donte Hill, and Noel Johnson. I’m sure you are aware of the limitations of Jennings and Booker.

Donte Hill transferred to be closer to home and averages 8 ppg for a 3-22 ODU squad. Not exactly an ACC caliber player.

Noel Johnson transferred to Auburn and averages 5.7 ppg for a 9-15 team. Not exactly an ACC caliber player.

What’s the problem here? All these guys were OP’s recruits and none of them are any good! These are supposed to our senior leaders this year and not one of them has turned into anything resembling an All-ACC type player, much less a leader.

Brownell’s first recruiting class was in 2010. Due to the fact that he was hired on April 13th 2010 and class of 2010 recruits can start signing letters of intent in the fall of 2009, he was put behind the 8-ball. Everyone else had already finalized their recruiting classes and their was nothing left to pick from. Brownell was able to bring in one recruit, Cory Stanton, who was allowed out of his LOI at Wright State due to Brownell’s departure. He was not an ACC caliber recruit and left after his freshman year. That’s back-to-back recruiting classes that were largely out of Brownell’s control that only produced Devin Booker and Milton Jennings. That’s the collateral damage that comes with coaching changes.


Clemson basketball hasn't been great the past two years, but they also haven't been horrible. They finished 8-8 in the ACC last year and are 5-7 so far this season. I think mediocre is a more fair assessment. Expectations heading into this season were very low, too. They are currently in 8th place in the ACC, 1 spot ahead of where they were picked in the preseason polls. I believed when Brownell got here that he should get at least 4 years to operate as Clemson's head man and I'm not about to change that position in his 3rd season when he's playing with 11 freshmen and sophomores (2 of which are out for the year with injuries). Discussing the firing of a coach is usually a complicated issue and this situation is no different. But I think calls for Brownell's head are way too premature at this point.