Purnell looks ahead to next season

CLEMSON – As Oliver Purnell continues reeling off 20-win seasons and guiding Clemson to NCAA Tournament bids, he understands expectations will continue to grow from a fan-base with a thirst for success.

Disappointed that the Tigers are no longer playing, he is proud of their three consecutive trips to the tournament. And despite a third-straight first round exit, Purnell can confidently say that Clemson is a part of the national discussion in college basketball.

"It was a solid year, another year in post season play," he said. "Certainly, it's another year to build our fans' expectation level. That certainly was part of the plan. This team can compete for the ACC Championship and compete in the national championship."

With three starters expected to return from this past season's squad—along with sixth man Andre Young, Purnell is optimistic about next season because of the experience that's coming back.

"Anytime that you've got three or four starters back, you're very optimistic on how good you can be," Purnell said. "We lost two guys in David (Potter) and Trevor (Booker), but we've got a lot of guys back from teams that won a lot of games."

The same up-tempo, pressing style of play will remain, but with only a few tweaks here and there on offense and defense.

Demontez Stitt is penciled in as the only starter—a role that's similar to Booker's heading into the 2009-10 season.

Whether Andre Young will start or be counted on to come off the bench remains to be seen, though Purnell said he expects to see Young's minutes increase next season. Jerai Grant will be "counted on" again while Tanner Smith could "be in the mix" for a starting job.

Purnell said the four-man freshman class has a "long way to go" before becoming quality players in the ACC, generalizing the season as one that was up and down for each of the four.

"They're big for us next year. I've said many times, they're our future, but we counted on them this year," he said.

Purnell wants turnovers to be limited and rebounding to improve in 2010-11. Improved efficiency on the offense end is a must.

"You rebound the ball better and you have less turnovers…those are going to give you better opportunities," he said.

Developing low-post players to make up for the loss of Trevor Booker is another area of emphasis.

"A guy like Jerai Grant, development of our young guys, our freshman big guys like Devin Booker and Milton Jennings," Purnell said. "It's critical. We've already got one big guy coming in, in Marcus Thornton."

This year's Georgia Mr. Basketball, Thornton is the only player signed to the 2010 class.

Purnell said Thornton fits into a similar mold of Grant and Devin Booker.

"He's that power guy that's springy, athletic and fast. He can block shots, dunk over the rim. He's the kind of guy that we love to recruit," Purnell said. "He's a smart kid, a great student."

Though he was unable to comment about specifically about unsigned prospects, Purnell is looking to sign at least one more to join Thornton.

"That right guy could be either a wing or a big guy," Purnell said. "If it's the player with the ability of a Trevor Booker, we'd take him as a big guy. If it's a wing guy that gives us some shooting and at the same time, some toughness defensively that is required to play in our system, we'd like to have that."

He doesn't expect any players to depart early from the team, but doesn't discount that it could happen.
"Everything seems to be hunky dory," Purnell said.

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