If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably come across at least one piece discussing this being the make-or-break year for Brad Brownell. The good news for Brownell and his team is their experienced, talented front court. It took some time, along with several backup center transfers, but Brad has quietly assembled one of the better front courts in the ACC.
#24 - PJ Hall - 6’10”, 240 - Senior
I assume you’re a Clemson fan if you’re reading this article, and if you are, you’re familiar with PJ’s work. However, PJ wasn’t anywhere close to his best last season due to missing the entire offseason with a knee injury. By the time his game and conditioning rounded into shape, Clemson was already behind the 8-ball after losing early-season games to scrubs like South Carolina and Loyola (IL). If Clemson had won both of those games, they would have easily made the tournament.
PJ had a full offseason to prepare for his (presumptive) final year at Clemson, and he appears to be in the best shape of his life. He’s moving better now at 240 pounds than he has at any point in his career. On offense, he’s a three-level threat, capable of scoring in the paint, mid-range, and from deep. On defense, he’s an eraser, contesting and blocking shots in both half-court and transition. This season, you won’t find a more mobile and determined center in college basketball.
I’d like to say PJ is infallible, but I’m not here to sugarcoat things. The man struggles with rebounding, and it’s perplexing. He possesses all the qualities to be an elite rebounder, but for some reason, he’s not. Hall should be a double-double machine, yet he only achieved the rebounding part of the equation four times last season. He needs to step up on the boards to reach his full potential.
Clemson’s fate is closely tied to PJ’s performance. He’s the main attraction. If he stays healthy and lives up to his preseason first-team All-ACC billing, Clemson could be discussing seeding in February rather than facing dwindling tournament chances. I’m not worried about his on-court performance; when he’s between the lines, he delivers. My concern lies with his injury history.
His only healthy season at Clemson was his freshman year. He battled a nagging foot injury as a sophomore and started his junior year with a minutes limit due to a knee injury. Brad Brownell needs him to stay healthy, but history shows that any time Brad relies on someone to stay injury-free, they tend to get injured. Let’s hope PJ breaks that trend.
If he remains injury-free, Clemson will secure a spot in the tournament. If he goes down, the Tigers will still compete, but the road to the tournament becomes much rockier. Clemson basketball fans deserve a full season of PJ Hall at his best.
#4 - Ian Schieffelin - 6’8”, 240 - Junior
When Schieffelin signed with Clemson out of Grayson High School (GA), I wasn’t sure what to expect, other than the fact that his last name was going to be difficult to spell. I initially thought he’d become a solid depth piece at some point in his career. However, Ian hit the ground running with Clemson, playing in 30 games and starting 7 as a true freshman. He became a fixture in the starting lineup as a sophomore, starting 22 games.
He’s been serviceable on the court and even showed moments of greatness, but it’s time for him to have a breakout junior campaign. His primary task is to fill the rebounding gap left by PJ. In the Tigers’ scrimmage against Newberry, he scored 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 26 minutes. This is the kind of production Clemson needs from their power forward.
As an all-action player, Schieffelin should use his experience to play smarter, not harder this season. Occasionally, he gets caught out of position on defense because he tries to do too much. On the offensive end, he has a nice shot yet sometimes passes up open opportunities. Brad needs him to be a confident mid-range shooter to create high-low opportunities with PJ. With an increase in confidence from Ian, Clemson could boast one of the most skilled and physically imposing front courts in not only the ACC but the entire nation.
#5 - Jack Clark - 6’10”, 207 - Graduate
In search of front court depth, Coach Brownell scoured the transfer portal and brought in Jack Clark, a former La Salle and NC State transfer. Last season with the Wolfpack, Clark played in 23 games, starting 17. Brad gained valuable insights into Clark’s game last season when he started and played 30 minutes in NC State’s regular season loss to Clemson, contributing 7 points and 11 rebounds. He followed that up with a 30-minute performance, scoring 10 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in NC State’s loss to Clemson in the ACC tournament.
Jack couldn’t beat Clemson last season, but we’re glad he decided to join us for the ‘23-’24 slate. What’s interesting about Clark’s game is that he began his college career as a 6’8”, 180-pound guard at La Salle. (For reference, I was a 6’3”, 170 pound high school senior and I I could have stood in for an anatomy skeleton.) Luckily for Clemson, he’s added some bulk over his 5 years in college, grew two inches, and can play every position except point guard for this team.
Brad will take advantage of his versatility, using him as a super-sub. He can play center in a small lineup, and either as a wing or a stretch 4 in a bigger lineup. While he only shot 29% from deep last season at NC State, he’s a capable shooter for a big man. If teams leave him open on the perimeter, he won’t hesitate to make them pay. Put him at the 5, and he can stretch the floor on offense, opening up the lane for Clemson’s guards. Play him at the 4 next to PJ, and he’s a stretch 4, capable of pulling defenders away the post and delivering precision post passes with his Go-Go-Gadget arms (am I dating myself with this reference?). Put him on the wing, and he can shoot over closing defenders or take them into the post and utilize his size advantage.
Defensively, his length allows him to disrupt post passing lanes when he’s playing the 4 or on the wing and contest shots at the rim when he’s playing the 5. Physical centers may pose a challenge for Clark due to his thin build. Brad will need to consider the opposing team’s lineup before bringing Clark in at the 5. It won’t happen frequently, but it won’t be surprising when it does.
Jack Clark brings experience, versatility, and shooting off the bench at the 3, 4, or 5 positions. He’s a significant upgrade over last season, especially on defense, and could become one of the most valuable players on the roster by the end of the season if he reaches his potential.
In my book, Clemson won the Jack Clark for Ben Middlebrooks trade with NC State.
#33 - Bas Leyte - 6’10.5”, 225 - Graduate
For reasons that still baffle me, last season’s backup center, Ben Middlebrooks, exited God’s country and moved to Raleigh to play for the Wolfpack. The Tigers needed additional size with the defection of Middlebrooks, and Leyte fits the bill. Hailing from Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands, by way of UNCG, Leyte has developed his game at UNCG over the last four seasons and is ready to showcase his abilities on a bigger stage. Last season, he played in all 32 games for UNCG, starting 30, and averaged 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
If Hall goes down, Leyte isn’t a one-to-one replacement, but he will be valuable off the bench, especially against physical centers. In the scrimmage against Newberry, he played 8 minutes, scored 4 points, and collected 6 rebounds, which is the kind of production the Tigers need from him.
He’s not a star, but he should be a solid late addition from the portal with a defined role for the Tigers. Not bad for a player Clemson managed to acquire in July.
#21 - Chauncey Wiggins - 6’10”, 210 - Sophomore
Wiggins appears more suited to play on the wing, which is where he started for Clemson against Newberry. However, towards the end of last season, he played the 4 and provided crucial shooting off the bench. He’ll mainly play small forward, but in a pinch, he could fill the stretch 4 role.
Clemson has enough talent to keep him on the wing, but he could pose a matchup nightmare as a 4 for any team looking to zone up against the Tigers and keep the ball away from PJ. Standing at 6’10”, it doesn’t matter what the zone does; he’s always going to be able to shoot over it with his length.
#10 - RJ Godfrey - 6’8”, 230 - Sophomore
When Dabo mentioned that Clemson has a basketball player who could help the football team, I assume he’s talking about Godfrey. The son of former NFL linebacker Randall Godfrey, RJ brings a football mentality to the basketball court. Like Wiggins, I see him more as a wing for Clemson, but he has the size to play the 4 in a highly athletic lineup.
He’s one of Clemson’s best rebounders, and his build wouldn’t be out of place on an NBA team. In the scrimmage, coming off the bench, he was the Tigers’ second-leading rebounder with 9, including 5 offensive boards, all in 15 minutes. Granted, it was against Newberry.
It’ll be interesting to see how Brad utilizes another player capable of playing both on the wing and in the post.
This front court has everything you need: size, experience, athleticism, and toughness. PJ Hall is the star, but Clemson has done an excellent job of surrounding him with complementary players at the 4.
If the Tigers secure a spot in the tournament (which they must), it will be because of their strong and deep front court, which opens up opportunities for the guards. This is a legitimate front court roster. Per usual, any long-term injury to Hall would significantly hurt Clemson’s chances, but that could be said about the star player of any team.
Brad has the depth to play at a faster pace this season and score more easy buckets in transition, thanks to a front court capable of running and finishing in transition. It’ll be interesting to see if he goes in that direction when the inevitable Clemson scoring drought occurs this season.
Brad Brownell has assembled a solid cast of front court players, and I hope he utilizes them to their full potential.