ACC Hoops Preview: Clemson

Coach Oliver Purnell has been on a mission to steadily transform Clemson Basketball into an upper division team and may see the fruits of his work starting this season.

Losing only point guard Vernon Hamilton (pretty important loss) from last season's hot starting (17-0) but cold finishing (4-10) squad, Coach Purnell has a good base to work with. Leading the way will be senior James Mays, a dynamic inside force who matches up well with most anyone. Mays is a 6'9" whirling dervish who has loads of talent, good offensive skills, rebounds well and blocks some shots. He has outstanding athletic ability but needs to improve his free throw shooting and cut down on turnovers to become an All-ACC type player.

Returning inside to help Mays with the rebounding load is exciting forward Trevor Booker, a 6'7" jumping jack who did not back down from anybody even as a freshman last season. He started the year very well and then hit a slump where he got into some foul problems and allowed his youth to show through, but he did finish up the season on a high note by scoring in double digits in 10 of his last 12 games.

Also returning is leading scorer and top three-point shooter K. C. Rivers, a 6'5" wing who can be a very good shooter at times. Others who will figure in the mix prominently for the Tigers will be: Julius Powell, a 6'7" outside shooting forward who needs to be more of a force rebounding; 6'6" wing David Potter, 6'9" C Raymond Sykes, a good shot blocker who played more and better as the season progressed a year ago; Cliff Hammonds, 6'3" G who is not a great shooter yet but plays terrific defense; Sam Perry, a 6'5" versatile forward and Karolis Petrukonis, a 6'11" center/forward who did not play a lot but could really help inside if he develops.

Clemson also brings a host of talented recruits headlined by North Carolina native Demontez Stitt, a 6'2" quickster who also can light it up as well as play good defense. Terence Oglesby, a 6''1" zone buster could also make some noise if he can keep up with the athletic guards in the ACC. The Tigers also added Jerai Grant (yes, one of THOSE Grants), a 6'8" forward with a raw game but great athleticism.

Pros: More athletic than typical Clemson teams, they have good skills at some key positions and good experience throughout the lineup. Rivers has helped with their poor outside shooting in recent history and Stitt should make it even better this season if he can adjust to the college game. Rebounding should be improved and they will play Purnell's swarming defense because of their depth. Booker has the potential to be a double-double guy on occasion and should help ease the load on Mays inside with an added year of experience. This team has been through the ACC wars and should hold up better than they did late last season.

Cons: They will have to improve their rebounding and three point shooting from last season to challenge for a top tier finish. If they continue their abysmal free throw shooting, it could cost them several games like last year and prevent them from their coveted NCAA berth. Losing Hamilton is bigger than most might think because of the leadership and stability he brought to last year's team and how quickly Hammonds can take over his role will determine their fate. Purnell's teams have had an unfortunate fate of folding down the stretch in games and in the season so they will have to prove to the detractors that this year will be different.

Prognosis: This is a team that could and maybe should be in the top 4 in the ACC this season but history suggests they will do just enough to lose an upper tier finish and end up in the 5-8 range in the ACC standings. I believe that they can and will earn a berth in the postseason with an NCAA berth being a better than 50-50 chance.

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