In a pivotal season for the Clemson basketball program, Brad Brownell has assembled a deep and talented group of guards spearheaded by a pair of fifth-year seniors. There is plenty of ability in the frontcourt as well, and if the backcourt can hold up its end of the bargain, it could be a very successful year for the Tigers.
#1 - Chase Hunter - 6’4”, 200 - Redshirt-Senior
The fifth-year senior returns for his second season as starting point guard after a breakout campaign where he averaged 13.8 points and 4.5 assists per game while running the show for the Tigers. After playing Hunter off the ball for his first three seasons on campus with underwhelming results, Brad Brownell and Co. saw point guards Al-Amir Dawes and Nick Honor transfer and open the door for a position change for Hunter. His skill set always seemed more suited to a lead guard role, and the move to the point paid major dividends for both Hunter and Clemson.
There were occasional growing pains, but overall Hunter was a steady presence at point guard and should be even more suited to serve as a primary ball-handler in his final season. He showcased his ability as a three-level scorer as well – creating opportunities in the paint off the dribble, posting a respectable 35 percent from 3-point range, and continuing to develop his ability as a mid-range shooter. Continuing to improve those shooting percentages should be a focal point for Hunter, as should trying to garner more attempts at the free-throw line, where he made 81 percent of his attempts last season.
Hunter’s 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio was acceptable for someone in his first season running the point, but the staff would probably like to see him find his way closer to 3:1 in 2023-2024. More consistent defensive play and increased effort in the rebounding department would be other areas for improvement that can help Hunter raise his overall game to another level.
#11 - Joseph Girard III - 6’2”, 190 - Graduate
Clemson has had its share of impact transfers during the Brownell era, but you would be hard-pressed to find one with Girard’s pedigree prior to joining the Clemson program. A four-year starter at Syracuse, Girard is a bona fide scorer who has improved his efficiency over his career and shot 40 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc last season despite hefty volume, averaging a career-high 16.4 points per game over the course of the season.
Girard should slot right in at the starting guard spot alongside Hunter vacated by Brevin Galloway and will provide an experienced secondary ball-handler and complementary backcourt piece to Hunter. Girard has played enough point guard in his career to handle lead guard duties when needed, and he is a smart player and deft passer that is more than capable of quarterbacking an offense. Ideally, Clemson wants to use him as more of scoring 2-guard though, given that he pairs with PJ Hall as the ACC’s top two returning leading scorers from conference play a season ago.
The defensive end will be the question mark with Girard, as he has played exclusively 2-3 zone for his last four seasons under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and will almost certainly have some ups and downs transitioning to Brownell’s primarily man-to-man philosophy. He has reportedly improved his conditioning and is in better shape after a full off-season at Clemson, and as long as he can provide competent defense, conventional wisdom would assert that his offensive prowess should outweigh any potential defensive struggles. And if his play over four years at Syracuse is any indication, his offense should provide a massive boost to this year’s Clemson team.
#12 - Alex Hemenway - 6’4”, 192 - Graduate
Entering his fifth and final season at Clemson, Hemenway has been the consummate program guy but has been plagued by injury seemingly his whole collegiate career, having played a full season just once (2021-2022). He seemed poised for a turning of the corner last season when he averaged 10.6 points over the Tigers’ first 10 games, but another injury (plantar fasciitis) sidelined him for a month and a half and caused him to play sparingly (and not nearly as effectively) the rest of the season. He’s continued to have some trouble staying on the court this off-season but will hopefully be in position to return to a contributing role as the season begins.
Despite his tumultuous tenure, there is no questioning Hemenway’s dead-eye shooting ability, which he has displayed since he set foot on campus to the tune of a 43 percent career mark from 3-point range. He showed an expanded offensive arsenal early last season and could provide a nice weapon off the bench if he is able to stay healthy and return to form. Clemson hopefully has enough firepower to not be heavily reliant on Hemenway to be a major piece, but if he reemerged into one it would be a boon to what should be a potent offensive team regardless.
#2 - Dillon Hunter - 6’3”, 187 - Sophomore
Chase’s younger brother was a late addition to Clemson’s 2022 recruiting class and proved to be a useful contributor as the Tigers’ backup point guard in his true freshman season. Hunter didn’t provide much in the way of scoring or flashy play, but he proved to be a reliable old-school point guard type who could keep the offense flowing, handle the ball and distribute to scorers. Ideally, we will see some growth in his offensive game this season, although his role will probably remain similar as a sophomore before he has the chance to become Clemson’s starting point guard next season.
His development is one of the more important under-the-radar elements of this team, however, as the more he can bring to the table in a reserve role, the more the Tigers can continue to fire on all cylinders when Chase and/or Girard aren’t on the court. Hunter’s jump shot is a work in progress, but he has shown the ability to penetrate and finish at the rim when opportunity arises, and even 5-6 points and 2-3 assists per game from the sophomore would be a notable contribution to what should be one of Brownell’s best offensive teams. If he exhibits solid growth in his second year on campus, Hunter could position himself to be Clemson’s lead guard as a junior and senior.
#0 - Josh Beadle - 6’3”, 180 - Redshirt-Sophomore
While he provided some depth in the backcourt, the Josh Beadle breakout season many were hoping for last season never came to fruition. While he had moments where he flashed ability to contribute, his inconsistent play led the staff to opt heavily in favor of graduate transfer Brevin Galloway as its shooting guard of choice. Beadle will likely continue to fill a reserve role, but there should be an opportunity for him to be a quality contributor, particularly if he can build on his efforts on the defensive end a season ago and show a bit more poise on offense.
When Beadle is at his best, he is a slashing into the lane to finish at the rim or create open looks for his teammates. Although he can be erratic with the ball in his hands, he is a competent ball-handler when he is playing under control and can man either guard spot if needed. He could provide a defensive upgrade over Girard or Hemenway and find extra minutes if he can lock down opposing scorers. While last season was underwhelming for Beadle, it’s important to remember it was his first on the court at Clemson and his long-term outlook still has plenty of upside.
#3 Jake Heidbreder - 6’5”, 180 - Junior
One of the more out-of-left-field transfer acquisitions of Brownell’s tenure is Heidbreder, a slender scoring wing who posted a highly efficient 15 points per game last season as a sophomore at Air Force. When he signed with Clemson, taking a redshirt year was very much on the table due to off-season surgery and a general need to add weight to Heidbreder’s slight frame. It still seems to be up in the air as to whether the Tigers will put Heidbreder on the shelf to unleash fully once it loses three seniors from this year’s backcourt, or if he will show enough to warrant a spot in this year’s rotation. We suspect that decision will be made soon one way or the other.
Regardless, Heidbreder bolsters the roster with another proven knock-down shooter who can score all over the court. He shot 49 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range, and 87 percent from the free-throw line while leading the Falcons in scoring in a tough Mountain West conference a season ago. Those kind of numbers are hard to teach, and whether it’s this season or next that Heidbreder finds his way into the picture, he is a very intriguing piece for this staff.
#15 - Asa Thomas - 6’7”, 185 - Freshman
The lone recruit in the Tigers’ 2023 class is Thomas, a versatile wing who chose Clemson over the likes of Illinois, Iowa, Marquette, Wisconsin and others. Shooting is Thomas’ calling card, but he has ball-handling ability and a good IQ on the court that should make him a well-rounded offensive player in time. He will certainly benefit from the Clemson strength program and may need some fine-tuning on the defensive end. Given Clemson’s backcourt depth entering the season, Thomas could potentially be another candidate for a redshirt, but like Heidbreder he will have the opportunity to avoid that scenario if he can show an immediate ability to contribute.
It has been since Clemson’s Sweet Sixteen team in 2018 that the Tigers’ have boasted a starting backcourt pairing as talented and experienced as Hunter and Girard. The hope is that these two will combine to give Clemson a formidable duo to lead this season’s team, with improved quality depth on the bench with Hunter, Beadle, Hemenway, and perhaps others rotating in seamlessly to keep things running smoothly. PJ Hall is undoubtedly the star of this team, but complementary perimeter play will be the key to this team reaching its ceiling. We’ll see what the Tigers can do.