Purnell Optimistic About Young Team

SUNSET – For the first time in Oliver Purnell's three years as basketball coach at Clemson, there's a sense of optimism rather than just hoping to survive.

And with back-to-back solid recruiting classes, it's easy to see why.

"I'm optimistic that we'll have one or two guys emerge out of this freshman class that are going to be cornerstone type guys for us and our program in the future," Purnell said at his meeting with the media at The Reserve at Lake Keowee Wednesday.

"They're going to be good players at some point, whether it's 15 games into the year or 15 games into next year, we'll see. But they're that kind of athlete that they're going to be good players."

One of the advantages Purnell has other than having much better players is the fact that the team has been able to practice together in preseason for the first time. They've basically participated in what is spring practice in football.

"With practice about to begin, it's a little bit different this year because it's the first time we've been able to have individual and team workouts with all of our guys together for two hours a week once school started," he said. "So we've had an opportunity to have our team together more than we would normally have had in the past and that's been nice to start to get some concepts in and working with the guys individually and talk to them about what's important and just get a better look at them to this point.

"We played as well as anybody in the league in the last month of the season (last year). And that's encouraging," Purnell said said at his meeting with the media at The Reserve at Lake Keowee Wednesday.
"We played as well as anybody in the league in the last month of the season (last year). And that's encouraging. I think the key is to get back to that level of play as quickly as we possibly can. … I think it gives us a chance to get back to that level of play that we were playing at last year quicker because we've been together longer. Even thought it is only two hours a week, we're not starting from scratch."

The newcomers include 6-foot-5 point and shooting guard K.C. Rivers, who was the point guard at famed Oak Hill Academy the last two years, 6-7 forward Julius Powell, who was one of the top players in the state of North Carolina and can shot from anywhere on the court and 6-9 Raymond Sykes, who reminds Purnell of a young Sharrod Ford.

There's also Troy Mathis, a 6-0 point guard that was suppose to have been with the team last year, but he was suspended for the season due to a fight with another student.

All four are expected to contribute immediately, much in the same fashion the heralded freshmen did last year. But most of the eyes, especially early on, will be on Mathis, who is regarded as an instant scoring machine.

"(Mathis') big thing is how quickly he understands the importance of defense and how consistent he is on the defensive end on the floor," Purnell said. "His offensive ability is unquestioned."

The Tigers will employ a different style of defense and offense, opting for the trapping and running style as opposed to the inside-out game of a year ago.

"It's been a long time since I've played that way," Purnell said. "Back at Old Dominion, we were a press and running team and that's fun to coach."

And there's plenty anticipation that it's going to be equally as fun to watch.

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