In a season where the Clemson Tigers men's basketball team finished (17-14) overall and finished 7th in the ACC with a (10-8) record, but missed out on a chance to play in both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT, head coach Brad Brownell met with the media to discuss the season, unmet expectations and the future of his program.
Coach Brownell began the media session by noting that he was disappointed with how the season ended without a post-season tournament appearance, but was proud of the way that his players handled themselves throughout the season. One particular area to point out was the players' trek to Greenville to play in their home away from home in the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Rather than heading to the locker room and onto the home floor, the Tigers would board a bus and make the 45-minute ride to The Well, where they played extremely well, to the tune of a 13-4 record in that building, including wins over Louisville, Miami & Duke. The handling of that particular situation shows a type of maturity amongst the players, and a willingness to battle through tough situations.
Of course, the first inevitable question asked was what the Tigers were going to do if redshirt Junior and First Team All-ACC forward Jaron Blossomgame decided to enter the NBA draft. Coach Brownell was very clear from the get-go that his job "is to do what is best for the player." It isn't Coach Brownell's responsibility to convince Jaron to return to school, as well as it isn't the responsibility of the fans, or the media. Jaron has a choice to make, and that decision is nobody's to make but his own. Blossomgame is on track to graduate this summer and would be able to complete his degree, and at the same time would benefit from entering a much weaker 2016 draft class, when the 2017 draft class is expected to be much deeper. Coach Brownell was quick to point out that he has handled this situation before with the early departure of K.J. McDaniels. While it is a tough transition period, Coach Brownell believes that he has the players in place to succeed regardless of the outcome.
Regarding his team's performance over the past three years, we began to see Brownell get a bit defensive. He noted that the Tigers have been in the middle of the pack for the past 3 seasons (8th, 9th and 6th place finishes respectively) and need to take the next step forward into the top tier of the conference, but it seems that the panic of the results of the past three years is a bit overblown. "I'm not going to stand here and apologize for what we are doing" stated Brownell. He noted that Clemson is 29-29 in the ACC over the past three seasons and that is a situation that many teams would be envious to be in, noting that if that was a dip in Clemson basketball, that is pretty darn good. He then went on to state that "what we have done over the past three years needs to be recognized."
I tend to agree with Coach Brownell. The past three seasons of Clemson basketball have exceeded the expectations of both the media and the fans. However, three years in the middle of the pack seems to be the stopping point. It will be up to Coach Brownell to show us that he has the ability to elevate his team from the pack with the talent that he has coming back next year.
Speaking of the new talent, Brad Brownell was asked about his apparent preference of transfers coming into the program and whether he preferred them in this situation to high school recruits. Brownell noted that he was happy with the ability to land promising transfer talent and noted that it gives the player a year to work with the coaches and learn the system. Clemson will add Marcquise Reed from Robert Morris and Shelton Mitchell from Vanderbilt and they will be eligible to play at the beginning of next season. The Tigers also added former ESPN Top 50 recruit Elijah Thomas to a front court badly in need of depth, and will be available around the Christmas break.
I like the change in recruiting strategy since one of my criticisms of Coach Brownell has been his ability to sign high school talent, particularly in the state of South Carolina. Over the past 25 years, Clemson has only been able to nab the state's top player once (2009, Milton Jennings) and since Brownell's hiring, three of the six years that player has gone to rival South Carolina. In order for Clemson to reach the top tier of the ACC, Coach Brownell will have to succeed in recruiting both transfers and High School players.
Finally, onto the question that seemed to take up most of the media session and appeared to get Coach Brownell rather fired up, and that question was about his job security. In regards to whether next season was a "tournament or bust" season for him, he answered that he did not believe so. Coach Brownell was rather defensive about the status of his job, noting that he had received two contract extensions from two different administrators and was a large part of the reason why the Littlejohn Coliseum project went from talk into action.
Over the past several weeks, I have heard many different opinions on social media and in person over the status of coach Brad Brownell, but to settle it once and for all, Brad Brownell is not on the hot seat. He will be the head coach of the Clemson Tigers next season, and unless the Tigers end up below .500, we will more than likely be the coach after that. People seem to be disappointed about this year's result, but tend to forget that this was not supposed to be the year for Clemson. This was supposed to be a somewhat preparation year for a strong run to take place next season. As far as a year of preparation goes, I consider that a pretty successful run. The potential departure of Blossomgame may throw a wrench into the plans, but next season seems to be the year that will determine whether or not Coach Brownell finds himself on the hot seat.
To sum up the press conference, it appears that while Brownell is satisfied with the team's performance over the past three seasons, he understands that now is the time to show that Clemson can take the next step up and be a more consistent tournament team. He noted that he needs to find a "closer" on the basketball team to win those tight games on the road, and noted his love for the culture of the University noting that it was "the reason he wants to send his daughter here." Coach Brownell seems to be pleased with the direction that the program is heading and will be under pressure to perform with the new facility upgrades both on the court and in the recruiting trails.