Purnell Discusses 2008-09 Season

CLEMSON - It may be hard to believe, but the Clemson basketball team is less than a month away from starting its 2008-09 season. Head coach Oliver Purnell met with the media Tuesday to preview the upcoming year.

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Opening Comments
Purnell: It's that time of year that coaches live for ... the beginning of practice. We are very excited about our group and we've had the chance to see them in individual workouts for several times a week, especially on the offensive end of the floor. What we need to figure out is what we can do defensively. We lost three tremendous defensive players from last year- James Mays at the point of the press, Cliff Hammonds who typically guarded the opposing team's best player and Sam Perry, who had the knack for making the big defensive play in games. Plus we lost leadership. We can't expect one guy to step up and get that done. On paper, offensively, we can be better. But defensively is the best question. That's one of our goals ... to be better than we were last year. We've accomplished that every year we've been here. What that means, is being above the second or third best team in the ACC. That means not just playing in the national tournament, but being in the national tournament with a chance to win it. Those are our goals. We feel like our program has performed to a point where we can achieve those goals. Last year we played in the ACC Tournament and didn't win it. We played in the national tournament and didn't win it. We lost three tremendous pieces in our style of play ... we will be a pressure team, I'm convinced of that but can we take care of issues defensively? We should be a better free-throw shooting time. As good as those three players we lost were defensively, they were not great at the free throw line and the guys we have coming in that can gobble up those minutes should be better free throw shooters.

How hard have you worked with the mental approach of the team this year? You have been the only coach here who has welcomed
Purnell: It's all hard when you are in this league and in this level. When you have good players and you continue to get better players and you have positive experiences ... it's real easy to sell. That's what experience is all about ... learning lessons and going back to those lessons as you move forward. When you've done well, you expect to do well.

What makes you think you will be more up-tempo this year?
Purnell: I think we understand what we are trying to do offensively better. As a coaching staff we are going to emphasize it more. The reason is we've got some guys who can put the ball in the hole and can provide instant offense.

If you are still a pressing team will you be counting a number of freshmen to play significant minutes for you?
Purnell: Absolutely when you lose three players in your rotation and you are going to be a pressing team you have to go nine, 10 and 11 guys deep.

How comfortable are you turning the full control of your team over to Demontez Stitt?
Purnell: Oh very comfortable. He started the first 20 games for us. In season he had knee surgery and all he did was come back and play better. He's won games at the free throw line. He beat Mississippi State and other teams at the free throw line.

T.O. spent part of his summer playing overseas ... will that help him this year?
Purnell: I think so. Any time you can get games under your belt and you are. He played in Europe with the Norwegian national team. He played six games. Played very well offensively. Averaged a bunch of points. That can't do anything but help his confidence.

How does Catalin "Bobo" Baciu fit into your pressing style this year?
Purnell: Very well. Very mobile. Gets up and down the floor very well. At 7-1, the concern was can he play your style and he can.

Do you think Bobo can play a lot this year?
Purnell: I don't know. We haven't started practice yet. From what I've seen so far, he's going to be a fine player in our system. Our style. How he adapts to coaching and how we run plays and defensive schemes will determine how early he's going to help us. Hopefully he is going to be a quick learner and learn the plays. The thing with Demontez last year was he had four great players around him. Bobo won't be out there by himself, he'll have Book and Raymond Sykes ... but how quickly he adapts will determine how much he plays.

How do you think it will be this year being the hunted as opposed to the hunter?
Purnell: I don't know. Is that how are we going to be? I didn't see us picked first, second. I think we are picked fifth. But I think your point is we aren't sneaking up on anybody. We've got a lot of hard work to do.

Did the NCAA Tournament loss to Villanova serve as a big motivator for you this offseason?
Purnell: It has. We've talked about it alot. I've heard guys talking about it a lot. But we have to be careful ... we are a long ways from the NCAA Tournament. We have to be careful not to make any assumptions. That would be pretty foolish. We have to work hard to the point where we win enough games to finish strong in the league.

Is it kind of the same-old, same-old with the ACC this year? Still a tough league?
Purnell: I think this year will be stronger at the top. You look at the emergence of Miami- having all of those guys back. Virginia Tech, coming out of nowhere- all those guys are back. North Carolina has all of those guys back- they are the consensus No. 1. Duke is going to be very good. Georgia Tech had a great recruiting year. Wake Forest- everybody is picking them fourth because they have a lot of great players who are young. N.C. State- they are anxious to prove.

Have you thought about playing Andre Young and Demontez Stitt in the backcourt together with Stitt playing off the ball?
Purnell: That's not something ... I think ... the way I'd like to answer that is I see those two playing together. I suspect he will play off the ball some. Andre is an outstanding outside shooter. He's very very quick. We love quickness with our style. I can see those two playing together with us being really small with K.C. and really be cat-quick. There are a lot of lineups like that we can play around with. K.C. and Tanner Smith ... with Potter. That's why it is so exciting and fun right now.

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