Hoops season right around the corner

SUNSET, S.C. - Year two of the Brad Brownell era kicks off on Friday when the Clemson basketball team comes together for their first full practice of the season.

In his first season at Clemson, Brownell finished 22-12 and led the Tigers to a fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Back from last year's team are six lettermen, led by a nucleus of juniors and seniors that includes Tanner Smith, Andre Young, Devin Booker and Milton Jennings.

"It does feel a little more comfortable for me and my staff, having been here for a little bit," Brownell said at The Reserve on Lake Keowee, before the annual basketball media golf outing.

"Having said that, it feels like year one-a, as opposed to year two, from the standpoint there's so many new kids.

Added to the squad are six freshmen, led by T.J. Sapp and Bernard Sullivan.

"I think our older guys are much more comfortable and excited about how we play and how we do things -- you see that in their daily interaction," Brownell said. "Our new kids look like deer in headlights. That's OK. That's part of the process."

Brownell and his staff of associate head coach Rick Ray and assistants Mike Winiecki and Earl Grant will have until Jan. 7 to get those freshmen fully up to speed.

"The one thing I really like about our freshmen kids is -- and I talked to them about it as soon as they came on campus this summer -- they need to be respectful of the elders in the program, the guys that have actually been to tournaments and done things," Brownell said. "The kids we recruited are great kids. They want to do what's right. They're very respectful of the other players. They're trying to learn as quickly as possible.

"The guys really like each other and they get along. I think that sometimes is overlooked by people, in terms of how a team gets through a long season together."

"Because of that, our team chemistry is really good. The guys really like each other and they get along. I think that sometimes is overlooked by people, in terms of how a team gets through a long season together."

The veteran foursome of Smith, Young, Booker and Jennings will be counted on as the leaders through the grind that is ACC regular season play.

Young is the top returning scorer [11.1 points per game], assist maker [102] and 3-point shooter [39 percent]. His 47 steals led the team last season.

Booker, the top rebounder from a year ago [5.5 rebounds per game], is also the leader among returning players in field goal percentage [45 percent]. He and Bryan Narcisse both blocked 15 shots in 2010-11.

Jennings' 78 percent clip from the free-throw line is tops among veterans.

"We're not as talented, from top to bottom, especially, maybe at the top -- having as many significant guys," Brownell said.

"If you talk about a talented player, you talk about his ability to score, his ability to know what to do, defensively, his ability to compete, his ability to perform under pressure."

To make it to a fifth-straight NCAA Tournament, Brownell said much of the weight will have to fall on the shoulders of Booker and Jennings.

"Milton and Devin certainly have the potential to take the next step and become more consistent players. Quite frankly, they need to. If they don't, it's going to be hard for us to be consistently good."

And if the Tigers are to have success in year two of the Brownell era, defense must continue to be the "foundation."

"You can play for me if you defend your position, if you know how to play as a team, defensively, you handle the ball and you know what to do," Brownell said.

To read more from Brownell, visit the CUTigers.com premium message board The Valley:

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