Another big step for Tiger basketball

CLEMSON - A Clemson basketball press conference in the middle of July? In previous years it would likely be viewed as nothing more than an afterthought to summer workouts for the football team.


Not anymore.

For the second consecutive year, Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell and his wife, Vicky, announced the date for their annual fundraiser supporting Coaches vs. Cancer while also introducing the incoming freshmen class.

And even more members of the media were on hand this time, 20 to be exact, to see what all the fuss is about. After all, it's not every day your basketball program signs what many believe is its best class ... ever.

Not surprisingly, Purnell was quick to point out that each of his four freshmen will not only be battling for playing time, but a starting position as well.

"We told our veterans last year that we've got, in my mind, one starter returning and that's Trevor Booker," he said. "Everything else is going to be open for competition. I'm sure these guys are going to weigh in and I'm excited about that."

"It's going to be fun to watch."

Leading the way for the 2009 class will be five-star forward and McDonald's All-American Milton Jennings, one of the top ranked players signed by the Tigers in the last 15 years.

"He's a Clemson guy," Purnell said. "He's the type of guy we go out and recruit who cares about his team, his family and his education. And he's talented. He'll be in there."

Jennings will be supported by three-star forward Devin Booker, younger brother of Trevor, as well as combo guard Donte Hill, the defensive stopper, and also Noel Johnson, a four-star guard signed by the Tigers just weeks ago after he was released from his original LOI with Southern California.

Noel Johnson is the No. 13 shooting guard prospect in the nation according to

Overall, the class is ranked No. 11 in's updated team rankings, making it the highest ranked class a staff has brought in since the mid-1990s.

"Our brand is hot," he said. "They [recruits] like what they see. Obviously the ACC is a great calling card. Always has been, but because we are in the top echelon helps."

The Tigers were bumped up 10 spots in's team rankings with Johnson's signing late last month.

A four-star prospect, Johnson was also ranked as the No. 13 shooting guard in the nation after averaging just over 21 points during his senior season.

"We are excited about Noel for obvious reasons. We had a scholarship because Terence Oglesby left early to go to Europe. We lost K.C. Rivers- so those were our two wing players from last year," Purnell said.

"When you lose two guys but you only bring in one at that position, the way we play, you feel like you are a little bit thin. But now we feel like we have quality bodies to go out there on the wing and really give us the athleticism, the defense and the shooting that we need our wings to give us."

However in the grand scheme of Clemson basketball, even more impressive than this single recruiting class has been Purnell's ability to sustain success at Clemson.

While previous coaches like Cliff Ellis and Rick Barnes produced good teams, none have recruited with the consistency of Purnell and his staff year in and year out.

And now coming off the heels of consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament, this year's group of Tigers should be another big step in achieving the ultimate goals for Clemson basketball - an ACC and a National Championship.

"They are excited about being here," Purnell added about his class. "They watched our program the last of years and understand our style of play. Right now they are just starting to prepare themselves.

"By the time we get to Oct. 15 [the first day of practice] they are going to be raring to go." Top Stories