ACC Preview: No. 9 Clemson

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HEAD COACH OLIVER PURNELL

How important for the programs like Clemson, FSU, Virginia, to reestablish themselves as Top 25 teams to help the ACC regain the foothold it lost?

I think it's important, certainly for our program, to get on the up tick. For Clemson University and it's going to help the ACC. The more programs that do that, the better. I think you lose sight of this – once we get into the league, we are beating up on each other so it's hard for everybody to be in the Top 25. But I think that one of the things I look at when we look at expansion, that's important, is that the ACC continues to get teams into the NCAA Tournament and perhaps add one or two more. We've got more teams, let's get more in. Obviously a part of that is for teams like Clemson to get on the up tick.

Coach, will you pay attention to the teams that will be coming in?

Well, we play Boston College so sure, we'll watch. Last year when I was in the A-10, we'd flip around and watch the ACC and different teams. I won't watch whole games because we've got so many other games to watch, but sure we'll watch scores and if one of those teams is on when I've flipping around, I'll watch five or ten minutes of it.

This is a league that you've watched from afar…just talk about coming into this league and being a head coach here and what it means.

Well, you don't have enough time for that, but I just feel so fortunate and blessed to be in this league. It's been a dream come true. Since high school, growing up in Maryland and growing up in the shadow of the University of Maryland and spending most of my adult life in Virginia. Then having been an assistant in this league for three years and having tasted it. It's a dream come true. The other half of that dream is of course winning in the ACC. To be at a place like Clemson, it's a place my wife and I like more and more every day. I think there is an awful lot of perceptions out there about this great place that we'll dispel now. One is that they've never won. Obviously Rick Barnes did ok. Cliff (Ellis) won the ACC regular season, Bill Foster in the Final Eight. I'm there and part of what we are there to do is build stability in a program over a long period of time and I think we can do that. We've got to have two or three recruiting classes put together and there's no reason we can't sustain having an excellent program over many years. Obviously a big part of that is having that ACC brand name behind Clemson University.

How difficult is it to establish that stability in a program when you are in a conference with programs such as Duke, North Carolina and now Maryland and Wake Forest?

It's hard. Getting up off the deck is the hardest part because those teams don't let you off the deck. That first two or three years is usually the toughest but if it was easy, anybody could do it or a lot of people would have the job. I feel fortunate to have it, I know it's tough, I know it's a challenge, but I like that.

What is about you that you go looking for challenges?

I just think I like competing and (have) since early in my sports life. That's a big part of it. I just get charged up about it, I don't know.

What were your perceptions of the ACC when you were away from the league the last few years? There is a national perception that it's not what it used to be, that it's been a top heavy league and Carolina hasn't been what Carolina was before. Do you look at the ACC in a different light than when you were younger?

No I don't. I watched the ACC a bunch because it's been my favorite league and having grown up in it and watching teams throughout the years, everybody would agree that the past two years Carolina has been down. That's going to happen. Even Duke when Mike was ill was down for a little bit. That's going to happen. That's a blip on the screen. I think everybody would agree that Carolina will be back and certainly the teams at the top that are excellent. Maryland is one of those teams and they were always there before Gary got there. Now they are one of those. NC State has been, and they are climbing back up. There have been a lot of teams that have been in and out of the top three or four. Wake's up there. It is just a tremendous competitive league. I watched a lot, I've played against a couple teams in the league over the years. I don't think it's any different that it's ever been. There are going to be some years when it's great and there are going to be some years when it's just very very very good. Arguably the top league in the country the last 20-25 years and certainly over the last 50.

Do you feel with four starters back that at least gives you a fighting chance to succeed?

The biggest thing for us is how we are going to get the ball up the floor. Losing Ed Scott, and we do have three and a half starters back, but we don't have anybody that has played any minutes at the point guard position because Ed Scott played 38 minutes a game. We all recognize what a critical spot that it. I know my nice colleagues here won't attack that at all (laughter). So that's going to be the toughest part and it's a major problem for us. We are going to be working over the next two or three weeks and try to solve that problem and get some solid play at the position.

Any encouraging signs there?

No (laughter). No but it's only been week and it's important that I don't and my coaching staff doesn't get discouraged. Shawan Robinson played the back up position last year – he played most of his time at the two guard spot – and he's going to play in the backcourt, it's just a matter of which position. Vernon Hamilton, the freshman from Richmond, has been sporadic but he should be. He's a freshman in the first week of practice. We may move Chey Christie over there to see what he can do. We'll figure it out.

Given expansion is on the horizon, how important is this year, being sort of a last hurrah, for the ACC to reestablish itself?

I don't know if it's important because of this particular year with what's happening. I think it's important that the ACC continues to flourish. What expansion has done is to position the ACC for years in the future to be very influential whether it be on or off the court --- politically with any kind of legislation and that kind of thing, the ACC is going to be right there. I think from a basketball standpoint, perhaps with the expanded recruiting base from way down south with Miami and that rich recruiting area for athletics, all the way up to the Boston area, it will allow the ACC to be more prominent in those area in drawing some of the top players in those areas. Obviously the ACC has always recruiting nationwide and done a great job, but that puts us up in that area and maybe in the traditional Southeastern Conference area down in Florida.

Would you still like to sign one or two more guys to add to the class you have and do you expect some attrition?

It seems like every year I've been coaching you have some type of attrition one way or the other particularly when you are starting a program. So, it would not surprise me. Obviously it's a new system and some may perceive it as more demanding or certainly a different way of doing things. We have to be uncompromising in the way we do things because it's been successful for us. Guys want to be on board with that, great, if not, you could get some attrition. We are certainly continuing to recruit so if the opportunity presents itself to sign a top notch prospect, we've got to look long and hard at that.

Has recruiting changed over the last few years with the number of guys going to the NBA earlier and earlier?

Well, yes and no. I don't think there are any programs that look at a guy and say, ‘well that guy might go to the NBA, we're not going to take him' because he's going to stay only a year or two. There's been a lot of talk about that but, and Carmello Anthony is a great example, those type of guys can make such an impact, I don't think you can afford – I know we can't afford to pass on a guy like that. I don't think it necessarily changes much.

Is there a balance in getting four year guys and guys that may leave?

I don't think you have to worry about that. That works itself out. There are not that many that are going to go. Some want to go, but there's not going to be that many that go. So I don't think you have to worry about it. I know there is a lot of talk about it but I'm not going to worry about it.


CHRIS HOBBS

We've got to prove ourselves against the teams at the top. Those are the teams you have got to beat…along with everyone else in the ACC. You can't sleep on anybody.

Does all this expansion talk have any affect on the players? Do you talk about it?

For me personally, it doesn't mean anything because I am not even going to be a part of it. I don't pay attention to it. But it's pretty exciting from hearing from the other guys. They are really excited about going to Miami or going to Boston College and seeing some new teams in regular season games.

Obviously since you are a senior, you won't be a part of it, but hypothetically, how would you have felt with the way it's set up and not playing at Chapel Hill and not getting a chance to break that streak. Is that something you look forward to – playing everyone twice?

Yea, that's something you look forward to, like the rivalries, the streaks you want to break. Just having to play a team one year and you don't play them the next, that's going to be very difficult because it's going to be hard to replace that exciting and that anxiousness to play that team again. That's the only bad part about it.

If someone offered you a deal right now and said you'll be Carolina in Chapel Hill but you'll have a losing overall record, would you take it?

No. I couldn't do it. That's just one game out of 33. Eventually the string will be broken, hopefully it's this year. Hopefully it'll get broken (laughter). You never know. Sometimes they last forever I guess. But, one game, unless it's the national championship, can't replace the whole season.

How is it being a senior and having to have a new coach?

It's different. It's a whole new vibe, but I can adapt very well to new things so it really didn't bother me that much.

What is different?

Different personnel, different people, different attitudes, different personalities. You've got to learn to talk to people different. You can't do certain things with them like you did with the other coaches. Just it's a whole different setting.

What about your senior year without Ed Scott? Coach Purnell said you guys had to worry about someone to get the ball up the court. How do you replace someone like that?

You can't replace a guy like Ed that could play a whole game and barely make a mistake with turnovers and dish out so many assists. There's no replacing a guy like that. I don't think you'll see another guy like Ed that could play the whole game, dish out ten assists and have maybe one or two turnovers. There's no replacing that. You can only hope to get up to some sort of talent level that you have lost and hopefully that next guy can bring something new to the table as well.

As a big man that relies on those guys to get you the ball, what about your feelings personally?

I know the ability of our point guards so I'm not worried. I know they are going to get it up the court and I know they are not going to make stupid decisions. It's going to take them a little bit more time to make the right decisions, but Ed automatically knew what to do. It's going to take time.


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