Brownell discusses ACC expansion

CLEMSON - Head basketball coach Brad Brownell goes in-depth with CUTigers publisher Roy Philpott on ACC expansion, scheduling and much more in this lengthy interview.

FULL AUDIO INTERVIEW: Brad Brownell on The Score (14:43)

What was your initial reaction when you heard the news about Pittsburgh and Syracuse jumping into the ACC this weekend?
Brownell: 'Wow' is really what it was. It really wasn't as a big surprise to me as maybe some other people. I knew the league had at least been thinking, and wanted to be proactive and was probably doing some things, though they weren't letting coaches know anything in particular. It probably didn't surprise me quite as much. Certainly when you look at schools, you would figure Syracuse and Pittsburgh would be two schools that would make sense as fit to our league. I was certainly surprised the way it happened and how it happened so quickly, but it wasn't a shock I don't think.

What does this move mean for Clemson? Does it open up things for you and your staff going into to the Northeast into those markets and recruiting players up there?
Brownell: Well, we'll see. It certainly opens some doors and gives us a little bit of opportunity. In the past, especially recently for Clemson, I don't know if some of the people up there even know where we are to be honest with you. In the past, it hasn't been area that's been a primary target for us much north of Washington D.C. But I think now we've got to open our eyes to what's going on a little bit more, put a little more time into that part of the country. Certainly when you add Syracuse and Pittsburgh, two of the premium teams out of the Big East, there's going to be a lot of kids that are seeing what's going on right now and are going to be excited and want to play in our league.

"I'm glad to see our league get out in front of it and was proactive. There's going to be some schools sitting around wishing they had done some more things or a league is going to fall apart and not know what's going to happen to them."

It would seem safe to say the ACC has plenty of pitfalls over the years and now it will have two more with national powers Pittsburgh and Syracuse becoming part of the league. Would you agree?
Brownell: Well, they are two great basketball schools. Syracuse has won a national championship and Coach Boeheim is a hall of fame coach. Jamie Dixon has done a phenomenal job and Pittsburgh has been to five Sweet-16s recently so they've done everything but gone to a Final Four. You're adding quality. It makes the job very difficult. It was already pretty hard. Now you add teams like that, and it makes it challenging. It's very exciting, it's a great time. I'm glad to see our league get out in front of it and was proactive. There's going to be some schools sitting around wishing they had done some more things or a league is going to fall apart and not know what's going to happen to them. I'm just glad with Clemson that our league, the ACC, has decided to get out and be proactive and I think we've found two very good schools. I'm sure the other sports, football and such, will be good, and the league will help their programs improve in football.

Would you be shocked if we see the ACC expand quickly with two more teams?
Brownell: No, I would not. I have no any inside knowledge. It would not surprise in the least that the league continues to make moves and trys to grab two more schools and gets to 16. I know a lot of people have been talking about the four, 16 team super conferences. Who knows what's going to happen in the future, but no it wouldn't surprise me in the least if that happened.

What was the reaction of the players on your team? It seems like they would be excited to play at those venues and against those nationally ranked teams.
Brownell: You know, I haven't seen many of the guys. I did see Tanner Smith; we had a morning workout. We talked about it briefly. He would have loved to have gone to the Carrier Dome and play. There are few venues in college basketball that people know, especially kids, and the Carrier Dome is one of them because you are going to play in front of thirty or forty thousand people. He commented to me he wishes it had been a year earlier so he could have gone up there to play.

What about the off-season for Clemson basketball? What has this been like for you, coming off that ultra-successful first season and getting this program back to the NCAA tournament? Have things gone well?
Brownell: Yeah they have. It's been really busy. It's kind of like year one A instead of year two. We've got five freshmen. We did all the recruiting to get those guys finalized and put together late last spring. We have been doing It wasn't ideal to have couple kids transfer in the middle of the year. We weren't as prepared as we would have liked for that, but I think our guys did a good job of going out and finding kids that were available and obviously working on that next class, which we are working hard on right now. So we've been really busy with a lot of the recruiting and just going out there and meeting as many people as possible. I think the attitude of our program is really good. I think our players are excited. They like our style of play and how we do things day to day, which is critical. Now I think we are building towards excitement for the season. The coaches are still doing a lot of recruiting and are working with our kids in small groups to get them better.

"I think the attitude of our program is really good. I think our players are excited. They like our style of play and how we do things day to day, which is critical."
What do you expect of Bernard Sullivan, one the elite level recruits you signed last year? I've heard the comparisons to Trevor Booker, being a left hander and power forward. Is he a guy that can step in right away and be a starter this season?
Brownell: Oh, I don't know. Possibly. We are really happy with Bernard. We think he's got a chance to be a good player for us. He's about 6'7 and he's got good weight. He's about 225. He's a powerful kid inside 10 feet in terms of finishing and making some plays, but like most young kids, he's going to have a hard time adjusting to the pace initially. Big kids especially, I think it's a little more physical than they're used to. We've really worked hard on getting him to be a better shooter from the perimeter. He's got to be able to make more outside shots than maybe he did in high school if he's going to be a successful player at this level. He works really hard, he's a great kid, and I think he's going to be a good player for us.

One of the other players that you have to replace, a leader for this team vocally and production-wise the last couple years, Demontez Stitt. Who steps in for Demontez Stitt right now as you look at your roster?
Brownell: We don't have anybody ready to play like the way Demontez played, and you wouldn't expect that. Demontez was a senior who had over 100 games of college experience and a bunch of starts in the ACC. The thing that we'll miss most about Demontez is his competitive fire. He was just an ultra-competitive kid. He was a guy that I moved around in a couple different positions last year and he responded really well. He was a tough defender. I do think T.J. Sapp for us, a young freshman, is going to get an opportunity of play a lot. We think he has some similarities to Demontez in terms of body type and game. He's got a tremendous passion for basketball as well that our staff really likes. He's got a change as a young player to be out on the court a lot and be very productive, much like Demontez was a freshman.

System-wise in implementing your style of play, did you get everything in you wanted to in the first year or does it take a couple years? How much do you have in of what you want to do, in terms running your system, really on both ends of the court?
Brownell: I think we got in a lot of what we were trying to do to last year, and certainly got better with it the longer we were coaching the players. You almost got to start over because five out of our 11 guys were new. The older six players feel very comfortable with how we are playing. That transition should be much easier. It will just be the transition of the freshman that will be a little bit of a challenge for us. Depending on how quickly they pick things up will determine how much they play as young guys.

How much pressure is on your seniors this year? You lost guys like Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, who really seemed to be the heart of last year's team.
Brownell: I'm not worried about leadership with this team because the four seniors are all great kids that are very coachable. They listen and work heard. Andre and Tanner are experienced players who know what we're trying to do. Bryan and BoBo are maybe not as experienced, so that will take them some time to continue and develop. But leadership won't be a problem. Those guys will listen to our seniors, the freshmen are already listening to our seniors. The issue is just losing two really talented guys. I think Demontez was a very good player, and Jerai emerged as one of the better big men in the league and fit our system really well, and had a great year. The challenge for us is for guys like Devin Booker and Milton Jennings to make the next step. It's their turn, they're juniors. Those guys have got to go from being good players but could still have a bad game and we could still win, to being primary players that score big baskets. That will be a little bit of an evolutionary process. If they can make the next step and be primary players, then I really like our team.

"Sean Miller (pictured above) is a friend of mine, and he I were talking in the off-season and we both happen to have a game. He asked if I'd come to Arizona first, and I said I would. For us to have the opportunity to play a top 10 team like that, out of conference, is tremendous."
Schedule-wise, it looked like you tried to take the next step out of conference with the home-and-home with Arizona. It's got to be pretty good exposure when you schedule a game like this.
Brownell: Yeah, it is. I tried to get another one, too. It's really challenging to get those high major, big name schools that you want to play to come to Clemson. Some of it's travel, what not. Sean Miller is a friend of mine, and he I were talking in the off-season and we both happen to have a game. He asked if I'd come to Arizona first, and I said I would. For us to have the opportunity to play a top 10 team like that, out of conference, is tremendous. To bring them back the next year, to Littlejohn, I know our fans will really embrace the game, and our players are very excited about it. It's good for recruiting. I certainly tried to up the schedule a little bit. I wish I could have gotten another one, they're just hard to get. I feel like we've got a good schedule this year.

Is that the sort of thing that you have to do to take this program to the next level, schedule a home and home with Arizona, or go outside the conference and get some of the power teams from around the country?
Brownell: Not necessarily, especially with the league adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse. You are going to have plenty of tough teams in the league. It's about continuing to get your name out there nationally. It's getting into some games that recruits want to play in and can get you onto better TV. Those are some of the challenges you face because we are not known as the primary flagship team of our league. Maybe our tradition is not as strong as some other places, and because of that you've got to fight those battles and playing Arizona helps to fight that battle.

We've seen you on the sidelines at some the football games this year, and I know you and yours dtaff use Clemson football as a way to recruit basketball players to Clemson as well. What do you think of Dabo Swinney's start this year?
Brownell: I'm really excited for the coaches and players. I know how hard they work and how much time they put into it. Their staff has brought in some incredibly talented players, and people have got to be patient. Sammy Watkins is one-of-a-kind, he's an incredible receiver. Our guy, Nuke Hopkins, who played on our basketball team last year, is a really good player. Recruiting has been really good, and now you're starting to see the fruits of all that labor. The last couple of years people were kind of unhappy, Dabo included, but now people are excited and we've got a big game Saturday. I think the guys are playing well, and their attitude is good, and it's great time to be a Clemson Tiger.

A few weeks away is Rock the John and the start of preseason practice for you ... are you guys really excited about that?
Brownell: We are, it's on October 21st. It should be a good night at Littlejohn. I know our guys will be excited along with Coach Coleman and the girls. We're all cranked up and ready to get going. Top Stories