Tigers Aim for NCAA Tournament

SUNSET, S.C. – Over the course of his three seasons as head coach of the basketball team, Oliver Purnell has gone about resuscitating the once dead program. Today, basketball at Clemson is alive and well, with no signs of a relapse in sight.

In his first year at Clemson, Purnell guided the comatose Tigers to just three wins in the ACC.

Year two saw Clemson increase that total by two and compile five league wins. Last season, the vibrant Tigers won seven ACC games, and in all probability should have been more.

Now, with the players and talent Clemson has returning, nothing short of a winning record in the ACC will be acceptable, which should mean the school's first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.

"The bottom line is, if you want to make sure you get into (the NCAA Tournament), you need a few more than that," Purnell said Wednesday from the team's annual media day golf outing at The Reserve Golf Club. "It's been our pattern over the three years that we've been here to increase our win totals and we expect to do that again. Our players expect us to win more game and our fans expect that, and that's what building a program is all about."

One reason the expectations for 2007 are so high is because there's a bevy of returning talent for Clemson.

There are guards Vernon Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds, small forwards K.C. Rivers and Sam Perry, and power forwards Raymond Sykes, Julius Powell and James Mays. But it's Mays' return that has drawn the most attention.

Mays, who was suspended from school last December for academic violations, is the key to the success of the Tigers.

He's Clemson's lone returning starter down low and, maybe more importantly, is the key to the full-court press implemented by Purnell. Without him, there's not much of a press.

"Obviously, we want James to pick up where he left off in terms of anchoring our defense" Purnell said. "That's what we hang our hat on is our defense."

It's automatically assumed that Hamilton will provide the great leadership and quality play that he did a year ago. However, not a guaranteed is the improvement of Hammonds, Rivers and Powell.

All three need to be consistent with their outside shooting. Should that happen, there's only one more thing the Tigers need to accomplish to ensure themselves a trip to the NCAA Tournament – contributions from the freshmen.

Trevor Booker (6-foot-7) is akin to Perry. He is extremely athletic and according to Hamilton, does some "freaky" moves on the court.

A.J. Tyler (6-9) is like Powell, a tall player that can knock down the three-pointer. Only difference is he's a little thicker than Powell.

Karolis Petrukonis stands 6-foot-11 and weighs 260 pounds. He hails from Lithuania and his primary purpose will be to bang down low. Purnell absolutely needs Petrukonis to be able to provide some quality minutes in relief of Mays.

David Potter (6-6) is like K.C. Rivers. Both are basketball smart and rarely make mental mistakes.

All the ingredients seem to be in place for what is expected to be a special season. Anything less would be a great disappointment, and that's what happens to a lively program.

"I'd be disappointed if that expectation wasn't there," Purnell said.

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