CLEMSON — Clemson coach Brad Brownell is seeking to replace the Tigers top scorers – again.
It seems like a treadmill the third-year coach can’t escape. When he took over the team after the 2010 season, star Trevor Booker was off to the NBA and seniors Jerai Grant and Demontez Stitt took on the scoring load. After Grant and Stitt left, Clemson’s senior backcourt of Andre Young and Tanner Smith took over.
Now, Brownell will look to his only two seniors this winter in forwards Devin Booker and Milton Jennings to carry the scoring load, something they haven’t always done in the past.
“It’s not something you wish, you always want to have a couple of scorers back,” Brownell said Wednesday. “Certainly, it’s been kind of case in my tenure here that we’re always starting over a little bit with our scoring. It’s not going to be any different this year.”
Brownell and the team officially open practice Friday, along with the rest of big-time college basketball.
Brownell developed the talent brought in from former coach Oliver Purnell, currently at DePaul, to keep Clemson winning. Grant and Stitt were role players who’d yet to fully play to their abilities when Brownell came on board two years ago. The two had their best college seasons, combining for 27 points a game as the Tigers made the NCAA tournament for a fifth straight year.
The same thing happened last season when Young and Smith each had the highest scoring years of their careers as Clemson went 8-8 in the difficult Atlantic Coast Conference.
Booker, at 6-foot-8, and Jennings, at 6-9, have plenty to live up to.
Booker, the younger brother of Washington Wizards forward Trevor, is a strong, physical presence inside. Yet, there are too many times he’s missing down low. It looked like the light had truly gone on for Booker in the middle of last season when he scored in double figures for four straight contests – the last two getting double-digit rebounds, too.
But Booker had just three more games in double figure scoring in the Tigers last eight contests. He took only four shots in a 68-63 first-round loss to Virginia Tech at the ACC tournament.
Jennings has also had his troubles finding the right path on the court at Clemson. The prep school McDonald’s All-American was expected to fit seamlessly into the Tigers system. Instead, Jennings has been inconsistent in his play and his confidence.
Brownell said too much focus has been on what Jennings’ can’t do. This offseason, the coaching staff tried to get Jennings to excel at the things he does best, like put the ball on the floor near the hoop and go for the easy baskets.
“I think Milton and Book have gone the full gamut of not starting to being reserves to starting,” Brownell said. “They’ve had some really good games at times. Maybe they haven’t been quite as consistent at times as we’d all like. But I feel good about where they are. They’ve had good summers and a good start to the fall.”
Brownell’s not sure who else on the roster might contribute big minutes and big points. The rest of the roster is six sophomores and four freshmen. That could grow to five if freshman Jaron Blossomgame, recovering from a broken leg, looks healthy and capable during practice. He said this week he’s 60-to-70 percent back, but Brownell wants to wait before deciding on Blossomgame’s role.
Guard Devin Coleman was a freshman who was playing the best at the end of last season and figured to lock up a spot in the backcourt this year. But he tore his Achilles’ tendon during the summer and is not expected back until next season.
Brownell said his sophomore class must contribute right away. Forward Bernard Sullivan expects that to happen.
“We’ve definitely had to step up,” Sullivan said this week. “There are not too many teams that are in our situation.”
Brownell thinks if Jennings and Booker can be consistent performers, they might lead the less experienced players to success. “I’m still trying to figure out what everybody does well and how to put them in the positions to make them successful,” the coach said. “We certainly better be playing better in January and February than we are in November and December.”