New Man in the Middle

CLEMSON - When Oliver Purnell's men's basketball team takes to the court later this fall, it will have an entirely different look than what Clemson fans have seen during the last five seasons.

In fact, if you think about it, when is the last time the Tigers had a true center on their side playing in the friendly confines of Littlejohn Coliseum?

Sure there have been players like Harold Jamison, Tom Wideman and James Mays, but they were more power forwards than anything else.

To find a truly effective center who was a factor on both ends of the court, you have to go all the way back to the days of Sharone Wright.

But that should all change in the coming years.

Catalin Baciu, nicknamed "Bobo," signed with the Tigers last November and is already with the team going through offseason workouts. Standing it at 7-feet-1 inch tall, and weighing in 230 pounds, it seems safe to say Clemson basketball will no doubt have a man in the middle for the next four seasons.

A native of Romania, Baciu moved to North Carolina and played his last two seasons at Veritas Christian Academy and was the No. 14 center prospect in the U.S. according to Scout.com in the 2008-09 class.

"Everything has been going well for me so far," Baciu said in a recent interview. "I've been getting along good with my new teammates and I really like the campus. That was one of the reasons I ended up choosing Clemson."

Baciu's strengths on the court are numerous. He's an excellent passer and can also shoot well from the outside and he also has some nice moves around the basket.

As a senior, he averaged 22.6 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 6.9 blocks per game for Veritas, where he established nine school records in just two years with the school. He also holds the school's career record for points (1,781), rebounds (1,091), and blocks (494).

During his junior year he averaged 23 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks per game.

"The main thing I need to work on right now is my strength," he said. "I can play with my back to the basket and I'm a good passer, but I need to work on my strength."

Naturally, there has also been a transition mastering the English language, even though he says he's now fairly comfortable talking about pretty much anything.

But what else would you expect from a guy who initially learned the language from watching cartoons?

"That's really not a problem anymore," he said with a laugh. "There are still some words I have problems understanding but I usually can understand what everybody is saying now. I know English pretty well now."

And now that he's already on campus, he's also getting the opportunity to play against the kind of players he'll be facing in the ACC this coming season, as opposed to what he's used to seeing at the high school level.

For head coach Oliver Purnell, that means as much as anything else in terms of Bobo's long-term development.

"With Bobo, you know you have to love his size and mobility, but the big thing is he'll have the opportunity to play against Trevor Booker for three or four weeks during the summer and see what he's getting ready to go up against," said Purnell. "And that should serve as a big motivator for him, especially in the weight room."

Baicu figures to challenge Ray Sykes for playing time this season, or the two could be on the court at the same time to allow the Tigers to truly go "big" when needed.

Scout.com Player Evaluation:
STRENGTHS
 Mid-Range Game
 Passing
 Upside/Potential
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
 Finisher
 Low Block Scorer
 Strength
Began playing basketball against older players in his community. Learned English by watching cartoons. Skilled post player who is capable of playing facing the bucket. Good prospect but a guy who also is a producer. Face up frontcourt player.


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