The Three Amigos

CLEMSON – When they came to Clemson, the basketball program was about as low as it could be as it had only three ACC wins in the season before their arrival.

WHAT: Virginia Tech (18-11, 9-6 ACC) at No. 24 Clemson (21-8, 9-6 ACC)
WHERE: Littlejohn Coliseum
WHEN: 1:30 p.m., Sunday
TV: Raycom

Four years later, they're leaving as some of the winningest players in Clemson basketball history.

Seniors Cliff Hammonds, Sam Perry and James Mays will play their last game ever at Littlejohn Coliseum Sunday afternoon and whatever future success the Tigers have in the years to come will all be attributed to them.

They were the first recruiting class of Oliver Purnell at Clemson and despite the team's 3-13 season, Hammonds, Perry and Mays decided they would play for the Tigers and be the start of the rebirth of the program.

During their time, Clemson has gone from last to as high as third if the three can lead the Tigers to victory over Virginia Tech Sunday afternoon.

"My freshman year, we were at the bottom of the ACC and nobody talked about us," Mays said. "Now, everybody has to talk about us."

It wasn't an easy road traveled to help get Clemson to this point for the three of them.

Their freshman year, before a single game had been played, a major fight broke out between much of the team and a fraternity. Hammonds faced charges that were dropped but there was talk of kicking the three off campus.

They performed community service to satisfy the school's wishes and were allowed to stay on campus.

That season, Clemson won on the final game of the season against Virginia Tech on a slam dunk by Sharrod Ford at the buzzer that made the Tigers eligible for the NIT.

Their sophomore season saw a great start but it came to a crashing stop after Mays was kicked out of school for the spring semester for plagiarism. The team made it to the NIT and won a game before being eliminated in the second round.

Their third season saw Clemson start 17-0 and be the last undefeated team in the nation. But Perry was hobbled with bad knees and the team eventually faltered down the stretch to have to settle for an NIT bid once again.

This time, Clemson made the most of it and made it all way the way to the NIT title game in New York City. It was another improvement from the previous year and a valuable learning experience.

This year, the Tigers are on the verge of winning their 10th league game for only the third time in school history and are a sure lock for the NCAA Tournament, even though Mays had a broken hand, a bad eye, a bad hip and back spasms. Hammonds has a broken wrist and Perry had knee surgery back in November.

"It seems like yesterday that we were playing our first game," Hammonds said. "Time has definitely flown."

The three players are now probably better people than basketball players.

Hammonds is married with a child, getting a double major in architecture and psychology and a member of the All-ACC Academic Team.

Perry is up for an internship at the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis and Mays has gotten his academics turned around and is as nice as they come.

"It's been a rollercoaster with the good times and the bad times," Perry said. "We've had fun, but it hasn't hit me yet that this is my last ballgame at Littlejohn. I kind of what to prolong it a little bit."

Unfortunately, that's not possible and they will be introduced in front of a loving crowd in Clemson just one more time.

"The thing that strikes me about that first class is that they took a leap of faith," Purnell said. "(They all committed early and) for them to come without ever seeing us play a game is very special to me.

"All this class has done is get better every year. You can't really ask more than that. I haven't gotten emotional about it yet. But I'm sure it'll be very emotional."

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
Virginia Tech (18-11, 9-6 ACC)
G 23 Malcolm Delaney (6-3, 170) 8.9 ppg, 3.0 apg
G 40 A.D. Vassalo (6-6, 216) 16.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg
C 00 Jeff Allen (6-7, 220) 12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg
F 13 Deron Washington (6-7, 202) 12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg
F 21 Lewis Witcher (6-9, 218) 2.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg

No. 24 Clemson (21-8, 9-6 ACC)
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 200) 12.0 ppg, 3.9 apg
G 1 K.C. Rivers (6-5, 215) 14.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg
C 35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 240) 11.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg
F 32 Sam Perry (6-5, 215) 2.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg
F 40 James Mays (6-9, 230) 10.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg

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