Coaches Corner: No. 9 Clemson

<i>Inside Carolina</i> attended ACC Operation Basketball last weekend. In the first of a nine-part feature which will roll out a new team every day, <i>IC</i>'s Tommy Ashley has transcribed the comments of Clemson head coach Larry Shyatt. The Tigers were picked No. 9 in the conference by the media.

When you played in the ACC last year, a lot of kids that we hadn't seen before stepped up. Will there be a continuation with those guys?

"I will promise you that we are better. We are the most fun team I have ever been around. We are aggressive. We have as many freshmen and sophomores that talented as anyone in this league and it's a pleasure to be around them. I don't know what that will equate to because I think our league is the most under appreciated league in the nation. I think it's incredible what happened in this league.

"There are nine teams. Five of those teams, in the heart of basketball season, January, Tennessee is beaten by 30 in the Jimmy V, they are fifth in the nation. Wake Forest is 13-0, they are 4th in the nation. Maryland ends in the Final Four. They are as high as third in the nation and (Duke) is number one all year long. Now, I am in football country. I would liken that to Miami, Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Florida State and Clemson all in the same league. I say it will never happen again unless it happens in this basketball conference.

"I don't think we appreciate it. I am not talking about 7, 8 teams, 23rd and 42nd and a nice power rating; I am talking about the cream in America. Five, four, three, two, one. You may be writing in history and I may be coaching in history and we don't even realize it because we've got another story to do.

"Now let's get back to us. How did I get on that deal? (laughter)"

Is Chris Hobbs healthy? How is he playing?

"He's very healthy. Chris and Ray (Henderson) were the bottom of the heap in terms of conditioning last year and rightfully so. At this time (last year), Allenspach was not on the floor with back surgery, Gilmore not on the floor with knee surgery, Hobbs recuperating from ACL knee surgery and Henderson recuperating from THREE knee surgeries.

"Their body fat is down to 10% a piece. Henderson is at 259 pounds and had a great scrimmage yesterday. Hobbs is 11% body fat and if they are the bottom of the heap, we've improved athletically and our aggression level is going to be improved."

On Dwon Clifton -

"We got great news, one of college basketball's few wonderful stories, this past weekend. 17 days ago, there was a small episode at an individual workout. Maybe a small seizure. Immediately I compliment our medical staff, a very safe approach. Get a neurological exam and a cardio examine and in fact, within two days of the cardio examine in Greenville, preliminarily diagnosis possibly that he'll never play again. They do the smart thing in that they wait and further test and then at Emory Hospital this Thursday, tears of joy. (Clifton) went through a battery of tests at Emory and the cardiologist called in his mother, father, brothers, sisters, me, and our medical team and clearly, he did not have a heart muscle problem at all. It was related more to hydration and low blood pressure. We've had two practices Friday and two Saturday and he hasn't missed a beat.

"You have to understand, Dwon Clifton came in in the preseason and tested one, two, three in all five of our tests. Body fat, vertical, sprints, endurance and one other. He was really fit. Some of the other guys are probably envious because he has a little bit more legs right now than they do. You are looking at a guy that's not only very fortunate, but maybe all of us are a little more balanced because of what he just went through. A great story."

How shocking was it with the first news that he would be out forever?

"It was extremely shocking and a blow to him. Again, I compliment our medical staff, they immediately told him eyeball to eyeball with me there, "you well may never play again". I hugged him. I told him I loved him. I told him I would think of him no different than my own sons. You'll be in the gym every day, you'll take a 1000 shots, you'll coach and at no time will you ever be out of my sight. There won't be a day come when we don't speak because I knew that that was the right thing to do. Little did I know that we would have a real nice story ending two weeks later."

How do you tame Tony Stockman?

"I am hoping the other teams don't figure that out (laughter). He's so much fun to coach. He made 12 points a game last year next to one of college basketball's best scorers and he may well provide even more this year. His assist/turnover ratio was good. He shot a better percentage from three, from two and foul line than Will (Solomon). I love him to death. I think the best thing we have right now, because we are far too young, is a level of unpredictability. So, why not be a team that runs up and gets it up quick, but if we don't have it, a motion team where we don't have sets for certain guys. Characteristically, we don't have any stars at the moment. Tony could be, but I don't think he sees himself as that."

Do you think we may see more half court sets since you'll have more size to work with?

"I can promise you, you won't see more half court sets. You may not see any sets, unless through evolution of ‘x' amount of games, we all of a sudden have, if we get a Baxter and a Dixon, and all of a sudden two guys are making 19 and 18, then indeed, we'll have some sets.

"But, at this point, I am not sure that's our personality. I want them to learn how to play and not to run plays. We scored a lot of points last year and we are going to do that again because they like that. We need to focus far more on defense, far more, now that we have 13 guys in good shape, how to stop people, how to be more aggressive, how to be more alert, how to be more physical. That's what we need to concentrate on more. We'll share teamwork and aggressiveness are the only goals we have right now. And, we'll share and be a team and be aggressive at both ends. I have all the confidence in the world. I don't know what that will equate to in a won/loss record, but I do have confidence in that regard."

What about the experience of last year?

"Everybody is saying too young and too inexperienced. But, untrue in one respect. I told this audience last year that we had three freshmen that were every bit as good as most of them and they could be all-League and they all were going to play. I think I even say, they all may start. Everyone thought I was probably half-drunk. But you know what? They did and they did gain experience. Now sometimes maybe we didn't play too well, but largely because of what I told you before about the five best teams in America. They will be better and they will continue to be better and they will show a good lead for these five rookies. The expression, ‘if we build it, they will come". Well we use that because we have new facilities on the way, we have a new roster on the way. Partly, maybe with graduations of other players in the league, as well as our improvement, that will equate to lofting us into the top part of the league. That's where we want to be.

"In 50 years, Clemson's finished forth, third, second or first FIVE times. Maybe six, check it. We need to take incremental steps. The step we took in February against the #1 team in the nation with Will not starting and even playing 13 minutes of the second half, was a monumental step for them (the players). All the coaching speeches, all the video tape would echo in a thimble compared to what they were able to prove to themselves and they almost repeated it two weeks later in the ACC Tournament against North Carolina's "A" game, which was a first for us."

How do you follow up that Carolina win and then turnaround and play Wake and lose by 30?

"We came back to play a veteran Wake club. Go back to the Carolina game, we packed the house and sold the game out for two games. Duke, who had beat us and everyone else by 40 at their place, with 5 ½ to go (at Clemson), it was a one-point game. Likewise at North Carolina (with the crowd). With Wake, we didn't get a very good turnout for Wake. I first compliment Wake's play, but then what an about face that was and what a learning experience that was."

Was that the youth?

"Could be a combination. I tried get in touch with Odom at halftime of his Butler game when it was 45-8. I told him I had a great halftime speech (laughter)."

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