Purnell Optimistic For Future

There were many twists, turns, surprises and disappointments this year with the Clemson men's basketball team. Yet through it all, it was a learning process for players and coaches alike that they believe has laid the foundation for success for years to come. <br>

In his final press conference of the season, Tigers coach Oliver Purnell reviewed some of those peaks and valleys, while at the same time looking ahead to next season.

"As I look back on the season and I reflect on it, I think there are obviously a lot of positives that show that our program is growing and moving in the right direction," he said. "And of course that's my major concern at this point.

"By most accounts, we're moving in the right direction and that gives me hope or optimism."

Oddly enough, the thing Purnell may be most proud of was the way the older players such as seniors Sharrod Ford and Olu Babalola meshed with the four freshmen and sophomore Vernon Hamilton and not reaching the NIT.

And Purnell points to that merging of youth and experience as the reason the Tigers were able to get to the NIT in the first place.

But that's just one area where the freshmen caught the veteran coach off guard.

"I think they exceeded my expectations in terms how quickly the young guys integrated themselves into the team and the way the young team dealt with so many firsts," he said. "In their first ACC-Big Ten Challenge and first national television game, I thought they'd be nervous; going to South Carolina where there were 17,000 people going against them; I thought they'd be nervous going to Duke in their first ACC game.

"Then after that, I said these guys aren't going to be nervous for any firsts and as the year went on, they continued to prove that in the ACC first-round game and so forth. That was certainly a pleasant surprise and then I stopped being surprised by this young team."

Next season, those same freshmen will older and will understand Purnell's system much better, which could translate to even more success.

"We tried not to overload our group," he said. "We tried not to give them too many things because we wanted them to just be able to play. Now we can take it to the next step where we can play, but also we can do some technical things because we've got carryover. We're not starting from the beginning. They should know certain things on the first day of practice and we should be able to put in more and be able to make more adjustments. …

"As I look at our roster now, it looks like our offensive fire power is more perimeter than inside. I think our focus and emphasis will maybe shift some to give our perimeter guys some freedom to do more things than we did this year."

If Clemson is to make the type of improvements that Purnell expects, he says the team will have to improve its ball handling, free throw shooting, stop committing turnovers late in games, make better in-game adjustments and play more zone on defense.

"I didn't really put postseason play up there as something we had to have this season," he said. "Now that we've achieved that, we can say we're moving forward and postseason play is something that we're going to be looking forward to every year and expect to be in every year. Obviously the next step we'd like to achieve is to get to the NCAA and compete for the national championship."

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