CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Clemson coach Brad Brownell had a huge smile on his face at Wednesday’s ACC Operation Basketball event inside the Spectrum Center.
Considering how his Tigers’ season finished — for the most part, anyway — it’s easy to see why he would wear that smile.
“I think there’s a lot of positive momentum in our program,” said Brownell in remarks to the media..”Certainly the Sweet 16 run is a big part of that, but I think there’s a lot of other things that have been going on the last couple years to really make us feel good about what we’re doing and where we’re going; specifically, the new facility that we’re in, Swann, has just been an unbelievable upgrade for us.
“I think it’s made our players realize that basketball’s important at Clemson and that they have everything they need to be successful. Certainly last year’s run was a lot of fun for our players and just the culmination of a lot of hard work. I do think that the challenge for this year’s team is to continue to build on that and these two guys are a big part of that.”
Reed and Mitchell are two of the three returning double-digit scorers — Elijah Thomas is the other — from Brownell’s 2017-18 Sweet 16 club. The pair combined for an average of 28 points per contest for the Tigers, providing much-needed offensive stability for a club that endured the season-ending injury to one of its stalwarts, Donte Grantham. The pair know they will be called upon to replicate that scoring punch from last year, while doing even more to guide their team to what they hope will be an even deeper NCAA tournament run.
“I feel like I just want to be more of a leader, be more of a vocal leader,” said Mitchell. “Like (Reed) said, last year we had seniors that were very vocal and outgoing that helped the team at all times. And I think besides the points and everything like that, that’s very important, just to be more of a vocal leader, someone that guys can look up to during the game, ask questions, just stuff like that.”
With only one other player (Aamir Simms) registering double-digit starts last season, the Tigers will heavily rely on newcomers to help them make the next step in both the ACC and postseason play.
“We got a lot of new guys, we got a few freshmen that came in, we got some transfers and then we got the young guys from last year. And all them bring something different to the table,” said Reed. “At the guard spots, we got (sophomore) Clyde (Trapp), we got John Newman and Hunter Tyson on the wings and all those guys bring toughness to our program. Hunter can shoot the three, John Newman, athletic guard, a wing that can defend, come off ball screens, make shots. And Clyde has definitely upped his game from last year, he’s running the offense great at the point guard position, showing he can score and lead, rebound and doing all the little things.”
Many of the returners will be called upon to take on more significant roles, as well. Simms is a prime example of a veteran who will receive that call.
“(I’ve seen) just the natural progression as a player,” said Brownell of Simms. “He’s worked really hard on his outside shooting, which is something we’ve been working with him on for a year now, so that he can stretch the floor and we can have spacing when he plays with Eli (Thomas).”
Brownell also sees something in Simms that has a little less to do with making shots or playing defense.
“Just leadership — I think he’s one of those guys who’s gonna be a big leader in our program. Even though he’s a little bit younger, I don’t think leadership discriminates. I don’t think you have to be a senior or the captain on the team to be a leader. I think you can lead in a lot of different ways. I think he’s a very well-respected, bright young man, so I’ve really talked to him about doing that, and I’m very pleased with the way he’s responded.”
Along with Simms, David Skara stands out to his head coach as a player who could impress in 2018-19.
“Maybe David Skara is another guy that, even though he’s a senior and played some last year, we hope that he’s going to take a step and show some development. He’s had a good fall for us, he’s — he really always helps us defensively,” Brownell said. “Sometimes he’s one of those guys that he can’t always be measured by his pure stats, because he does so many other things — his versatility, his ability to play multiple positions, guard point guards, power forward — you don’t always appreciate just his basic stats, but I think he’s a guy that could take a big step forward, as well.”
Clemson opens its season hosting in-state foe The Citadel in Littlejohn Coliseum on Tuesday, November 6th. The Tigers’ non-conference slate includes a number of interesting matchups, including a home contest with Nebraska, a neutral-site game against Mississippi State (Newark, N.J.), and a road game at heated rival South Carolina. The Tigers open ACC play at Duke on Saturday, January 5th.