Basketball: Tigers Gearing Up

GREENSBORO, N.C. – When Olu Babalola first stepped foot on campus and the basketball court at Clemson, he didn't feel appreciated, accepted or wanted. In fact, he says the other incoming freshmen that year had the same type of feelings.

The upperclassmen that were in place at the time shunned away from the talented incoming freshmen that were supposed to help make an immediate impact and made them feel insignificant.

"I don't think it was handled the right way," Babalola said Sunday at the annual Atlantic Coast Conference Operation Basketball. "It could have been handled a little better. … I felt like I was by myself. I used to feel like there were two teams – it was us and it was them. Nobody was there to embrace us."

Now, with such a ballyhooed crop of incoming freshmen ready to make their mark on the team, Babalola and the other Tigers veterans are going to make sure the same thing doesn't happen under their watch.

"I just made sure that I was going to let them know I was here and that they could come to me," Babalola said.

With forwards Cheyenne Moore, Sam Perry and James Mays, and guards Troy Mathis and Cliff Hammonds prepared to steal playing time away from some of those that played prominent roles last year, a delicate balance is needed to make sure no egos are bruised for either group.

Like Babalola, guard Shawan Robinson, a junior, doesn't want the same thing to happen to the newcomers that happened to him.

"When I first came in, I played with some older guards and their motive wasn't so much to bring me along, it was to put me in my place," he said. "And you can't be like that. It made me a better player because of it, but some people don't respond the same way. …

"We've gone out of our way to make sure everybody's involved. The rooms are integrated with freshmen in every room and it's not so much to put them in their place, because the coaches will do that, it's our job to pull them along and help them with confidence issues. …

"It's not so much that (the upperclassmen) talked about it. If it didn't happen, you'd have two teams and you don't want that."

With older players taking a position of acceptance with the freshmen, players like Sharrod Ford are comfortable talking about them. There's not the slightest hint of jealousy in his voice.

"I think (Hammonds) is one of the most underrated players on our team," Ford said. "A lot of people are talking about Moore and Sam, but … Cliff is a hard working player and I think he's one of our best defensive players. He's always in the gym working on things that you don't see, but it'll show up in the game."

Babalola couldn't agree more with Ford.

"Cliff is definitely does not get enough of what he deserves," he said. "He definitely works the hardest on the team."

When the Tigers hit the court for real on Saturday against Carson-Newman, some players will be spending in multiple positions. Here's a look at where some of the key players will be playing: Moore – shooting guard and small forward; Mathis – point guard; Hammonds – point guard and shooting guard; Mays – power forward; Perry – small forward and power forward; Babalola – small forward and power forward; Robinson – point guard and shooting guard; Ford – center and power forward; Akin Akingbala – center and power forward.

Babalola continues to have pain in his right ankle after spraining it severely earlier this month. He said he just got out of a boot-cast Saturday and will practice for the first time on Monday.

Center Steve Allen is still battling problems from a separated shoulder and will give practice a go this week. Also, guard Vernon Hamilton hasn't practiced since last week Friday due to a hip pointer and Mays has a slight sprained ankle.

Practice has resembled a M.A.S.H. unit so much so that assistant coach Frank Smith had to fill in as a player to equal out the numbers and head coach Oliver Purnell has had to cancel two scrimmages. Top Stories