Big Plans

SUNSET – Don't tell Clemson men's basketball coach Oliver Purnell about the past. As far as he's concerned, the Tigers' basketball history began the second he stepped foot on campus.

It didn't take long for Clemson basketball coach Purnell to relay his feelings about his team this year. In fact, he let it known in his very first sentence without being prompted one bit.

"The goal for this team is to win the national championship," he said. "This team needs some luck, needs to get into to the NCAA Tournament, needs to get a good draw, all those kinds of things. We think we can go into any game thinking we can beat anyone in the country."

Purnell has made no bones about it. He fully expects this team to do very well in the ACC, reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time this millennium and advance deep into the tournament.

With everyone returning but one player, and the addition of a few new ones, hope reigns supreme at Clemson, which is ranked in many preseason polls.

"All the things are in place for us to build a very good, competitive team," Purnell said. "When you have a strong program, you start to yield teams like this. When you come into the preseason, you look around and feel like you've got some pieces, if you can bring that club together you can be very successful in the ACC. That also means you can be successful in the (nation)."

Most agree that how the Tigers do this season hinges on how freshman point guard Demontez Stitt handles the starting job. If he gets rattled and can't handle the duties then Clemson will find the going much tougher than expected.

"Vernon (Hamilton) was a big loss, he played with a lot of heart and soul, our all-time steals leader and he broke open a lot of games for us," Purnell said. "But I think any coach in the country would be pleased and optimistic to have everybody back but one player, and I'm no exception to that rule. …

"Stitt is key for us and he really played well in the Bahamas, but I don't place too much stock in that because the competition wasn't that great. More importantly, he progressed and played well in practice as the 10 days went on. If he can give us very solid play, the consistency that Trevor Booker gave us (as a freshman) we're in pretty good shape."

The schedule, which includes trips to Mississippi State and Alabama, as well games against South Carolina, Purdue, Charlotte, Old Dominion and possibly DePaul and Mississippi, should be pretty solid strength wise.

And wins against those teams should result in a very good RPI. Nonetheless, Purnell said he doesn't want to rely on any of that stuff to earn an invitation.

"I hear RPI and all this and that, we've got to win more games in the ACC," he said. "That's what I finally figured out. I think some of that other stuff is a bunch of crap as far as the ACC is concerned. You need to have a winning record in the ACC and if you can win a tournament game or two, you're in. All that other stuff like the last 10 games … is a crock. …

"We've got to bust down the door to the NCAA Tournament. We can't put ourselves in the position where we're begging. We've been begging for the last two years and they've said, ‘No, you can't come in.' I think we have the kind of team that can do that now."

The Tigers shouldn't have many problems reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 if everyone stays healthy. However, saying the team's goal is a national championship is a pretty bold statement considering they haven't sniffed the Big Dance in a decade.

"I wasn't born in '98," Purnell said. "I don't really look at '98 and all that. Life at Clemson as far as I'm concerned started four years ago. We set out to build a strong program and I feel like we do have a strong program."

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