Basketball season is finally upon us, Tiger fans! Let’s start with a preview of the Clemson front court, which is going to play a crucial role in the Tigers’ march to the post-season.
The Tiger front court is talented, but also lacks depth as they will only have four eligible players until Texas A&M transfer Elijah Thomas gains eligibility after Fall semester. Valparaiso transfer David Skara will have to sit out the entire season to gain eligibility. The Tigers in the post are all familiar faces with the exception of Thomas, and all have experience with the grind of ACC Basketball and Brad Brownell’s system. Enjoy a player-by-player breakdown of the Tiger front-court and let us know in the comments below what you are expecting from this unit.
#00 Legend Robertin – Junior, Center, 7’0” 260 lbs.
I’m going to start out the player analysis with a sentence that is going to scare a lot of you. A lot of this team’s ability to have a successful ACC Season and make the NCAA Tournament rests on the shoulders of Legend Robertin. That’s right, after averaging 4.4 minutes per game and making only 4 field goals (1 in ACC play) during the 2016-2017 season, Robertin is the one, and only, backup to starting Center Sidy Djitte. If Djitte gets into foul trouble early, expect to see the Tigers go small, or give serious minutes from the Junior College transfer, who didn’t play double-digit minutes in a game last season. I don’t expect to see much of him offensively, but from what we saw last season, Robertin could be a decent rim protector. He recorded 4 blocked shots last season and averaged 2.4 per game at Chipola College. Look for him to be parked in the paint when coming off the bench, and offensively, it will become a perimeter game with guards reluctant to make the interior entry pass.
#5 Jaron Blossomgame – Redshirt Senior, Forward, 6’7” 220 lbs.
Without question, Jaron Blossomgame is the heart and soul of this Clemson team. Blossomgame is coming off of a 1st team All-ACC Season and was recently selected 2nd team pre-season All-American by Sports Illustrated. Many people (including myself) expected Blossomgame to bolt for the NBA after his Junior season due to the depth of the 2017 draft class, but Blossomgame returned to the Tigers to finish what he started. Offensively, Blossomgame has all of the tools. He is the most effective scorer in the paint shooting 53.7% inside the three point arc and 61.7% around the rim. His quick first step allows him to beat defenders on one move and get to the basket, and his motor is always running hot. Blossomgame’s 3-point development came as a surprise to many. He shot 20.0% as a Freshman and 28.8% as a Sophomore before shooting a staggering 44.6% as a Junior. If this trend continues, he will draw the attention of defenders around the arc, allowing dribble entry opportunities.
Defensively, Blossomgame focuses a bit too much on the blocked shot for my liking. With his elite athleticism, he should be a better lock down defender. Clemson’s lack of size does not help? as Jaron is frequently asked to guard bigger players and bump in the paint. As a result, Blossomgame struggles to get out to the perimeter on switches and get his hand in the face of the shooter. There is no question as to his heart and motor and I think we can expect another All-ACC performance from #5.
#14 Elijah Thomas – Sophomore, Forward, 6’9” 230 lbs.
Thomas arrived in the nick of time for Clemson, transferring from Texas A&M and will be eligible to play after the Holiday break. Thomas was ranked 31st in the ESPN 300 and transferred out of A&M due to a preseason injury and being stuck in the logjam of a fantastic recruiting class for the Aggies, which included Tyler Davis, DJ Hogg and Admon Gilder. Coach Brad Brownell is excited about the addition of Thomas, noting that he has “excellent hands and a very good skill set for a young man of his size.” Once eligible, Thomas will be the scoring threat in the post that Clemson needs, as he showcased a bevy of low post moves and has a knack for getting to the basket. He works the baseline well and, from the highlights I’ve seen, excels with his back to the basket. A lot is going to ride on the shoulders of Thomas, as he is going to be depended on heavily in ACC play when Djitte is in foul trouble.
#15 Donte Grantham – Junior, Forward, 6’8” 215 lbs.
Overall, Donte Grantham was my biggest disappointment of the 2015-2016 season despite averaging double figures in points (10.2 per game) while collecting 4.1 rebounds per game. The reason for my criticism is that Grantham has turned himself into a one-dimensional player. Out of his 281 field goals attempted last season, 158 of them came from behind the arc. (56%). Grantham also greatly struggles shooting off the dribble, shooting only 20.9% when not being fed the ball. Defensively, Grantham has the ability to guard multiple positions. He isn’t the most athletic person on the court, but his wingspan is impressive and he puts in maximum effort on the defensive end of the floor. Grantham averaged 1.2 steals per game last season and has a knack for anticipating opponents’ passes before they happen. The downside is that he can be over-aggressive and, if beat, can lead to easy baskets. Grantham will need to develop offensively from inside of the arc (shot only 42.3% last season) and be a dependable mid-range option when Blossomgame is on the bench.
#24 David Skara – Junior, Forward, 6’8” 210 lbs.
Skara transferred into the program from Valparaiso University and will not be eligible for the 2016-17 season due to NCAA Transfer rules. Skara will be restricted to scout team duties while he awaits his eligibility to return for the 2017-18 season.
#50 Sidy Djitte – Senior, Center, 6’10” 240 lbs
Sidy Djitte is truly a testament to the developmental ability of this coaching staff, as I would argue that the development that he made between his Sophomore and Junior season can be ranked alongside anybody in the country. He has only been playing basketball since age 12 and a lot of technical skills began to click last season. On offense, Djitte isn’t your typical center. He’s at his weakest when at the post and is 1-on-1 with a defender, but he is above average at moving without the ball and is a very effective pick-and-roll player. A majority of his points come from slashing to the basket on the pick-and-roll, as he has a knack for finding the open space in the defense. His jump hook turned into a somewhat dependable shot at times last year, and I am excited what another year of summer coaching has done to his post-game development.
Defensively is where Djitte earns his minutes. Djitte plays with a mean streak on the defensive end that I absolutely love. He averages about 15 rebounds per 40 minutes, and hits the offensive glass hard, which is where a lot of his points come from. My concern is his knack for getting into foul trouble. He can pick up cheap fouls very quickly, which can put Clemson in a very bad position to win games. He has to be very disciplined, which can be challenging to someone with this level of competitiveness. If last season’s development is a trend for Djitte, I am expecting good things from this young man.