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But all that has changed now for Purnell. He's no longer the Big Man on Campus in a semi-major city. He's getting ready to start his second season at Clemson, a school that is located in a town of 12,000 residents. And if it weren't for the school, there might not be a town.
"I think we have had to change our recruiting style somewhat because we didn't have a major college football team," Purnell said. "Here, we use that as a tremendous positive. The best recruiting weekends we've had have been around football games. We certainly talk about and recognize that football is a huge part of the tradition here. But we also point to the fact that we're building, you have an opportunity to play, you're going to be on national television and Clemson has had good basketball teams in the past and have players in the NBA. Our job is to get back to that point and add stability to the program so we can do that over a long period of time.
"At Dayton, we did say that we were the number one show in town. Yet, at the same time, we've used the football weekends here for a great recruiting tool, because when those kids are here and they feel that atmosphere, we talk about transferring that atmosphere to basketball. You can't take away from the feeling they get when they're at a football game and there's 80,000 fans and knowing that we can see 10,000 and 11,000 at Littlejohn. Then you couple that with you're playing in the best basketball league in America. It resonates."
Because of this, Purnell and his coaching staff had to change the way they approached recruiting. But whatever he's done, it's definitely worked as the Tigers reeled in their best recruiting class in years last year.
And early indications are that he's headed for another big-time recruiting class.
"The motto in the league is that you have two or three good recruiting classes and you coach them up and you have a chance to move up in this league as your guys become experienced," Purnell said. "Obviously, I don't see a reason to try and reinvent that model. We've got one good recruiting class in here and we've got a foot up on another one, so that makes me feel like we're moving in the right direction."
Getting a program that has been left for dead alive and actually getting it to be competitive is nothing short of a tall task.
And Purnell knows that the only way to get better is to bring better players to Clemson. That, however, has been a problem for other coaches in the past.
Finding top-notch players that want to play for a small agricultural school in the country isn't an easy thing to do. Purnell, thus far, has been able to do that, but he's had to change the style and tactics he had at Dayton to do so.
"Certainly, Clemson is different than Dayton, in terms of Dayton being in an urban area and Clemson being in a more rural area," Purnell said. "I've had the opportunity to coach at a rural school before at Radford University in southwest Virginia, and the selling points as far as that's concerned are similar. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. This is a place where you can come to college and concentrate on the things you should be – the academics and athletics.
"Yet, at the same time, it's a great college town in terms of social life. And things are going on that should be associated with college. You couple with that the ACC; you couple with that with the fact that if you need to get somewhere, you're 30-45 minutes from Greenville and a major airport.
"So I really don't think it's that much of a disadvantage for being in a rural setting here at Clemson, mainly because of the ACC, the media attention and the great environment on the campus in terms of things for the students to do."
One of the things Purnell has been able to do is ease any questions or concerns recruits might have with the racial makeup at Clemson, where only roughly six percent of the students are black.
"We really don't get that that much," Purnell said. "And perhaps it's because I'm African-American. Maybe I symbolize the fact that there is diversity here. It does come up on occasion, and the way we address that is I feel that it is a very good place for an African-American to come and get his education and play in a college environment.
"Clemson University is kind of like the real world, there are minorities and there are majorities. And we've got to learn to deal with that and it doesn't mean that we can't have a good time doing it."
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