Clemson coach Brad Brownell said he can count on effort and dedication from his players each day at practice. Other than that, the Tigers long-time leader doesn't have a clue how this season will unfold.
Brownell, starting his 11th season, said the uncertainties of COVID-19 and how it might affect Clemson's season are major unknowns he can't begin to sort out. All he's got, he said, is the time with his team at workouts and meetings.
Brownell said his team has been relatively unaffected by the disease this offseason.
“That's what really scares me,” he said.
Brownell's confident his players and staff are doing the right things to stay virus-free. But if one player picks it up, Brownell believes it's sure to spread to others because of the close, physical contact of practices and games.
“When you have it” on a team, Brownell said, “then you're missing games.”
The Tigers, who went 16-15 a year ago, were on court for warmups at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament last March when the league shut down the event.
Brownell said the consistency at practice is essential this season — as much for his team's improvement as for the players' mental well-being amid their changed lives.
“These kids need to play,” he said. “They need the gym. They need access. They need things to do.”
Clemson returns senior Aamir Simms, who led the team with 13 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. Simms entered the NBA draft process before choosing to come back for a final year. He tested positive for the disease in June and has reminded players daily about staying safe.
Simms, at 6-foot-8, was named a preseason all-ACC team member. He believes the Tigers can take steps forward this season as they try and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018 — Simms' freshman year.
“I think just having our full team back will lead us to be consistent and show the world what Clemson basketball is all about,” he said.
Some other things to know about Clemson basketball:
Clemson went just 9-11 in the league last year, but it has victories over No. 3 Duke, No. 5 Louisville and No. 6 Florida State. The Tigers also ended the most maddening and notorious streak in school history, breaking an 0-59 mark at North Carolina with a 79-76 OT victory last January. They also lost to several teams that finished below them in Miami, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Brownell hopes for less inconsistency.
Clemson was ninth in ACC field goal shooting )42 percent) and 10th in three-point shooting (31.5 percent). Brownell said the team may go through a few more shooting droughts that led to losing six out of seven from late November through December. Simms said there've been signs in practice that the Tigers may fare better than expected from long range.
Clemson had one of its better recruiting classes — 20th nationally according to 247 Sports — in 6-8 Olivier Maxcence-Prosper, 6-9 P.J. Hall and 6-10 Lynn Kidd. Brownell believes all can play an essential role this season, especially given the uncertainties of who may or may not be available to coronavirus concerns.
It could still be a while before guard sophomore Chase Hunter plays up to his potential. Hunter, who missed most of last year with a foot injury, was out about five weeks due to a broken bone in his hand. Hunter was expected to spend time in the backcourt with sophomore point guard Al-Amir Dawes. Junior guard Johnny Newman III has missed practices with a sore knee after a sprain. Jonathan Baehre is a 6-10 senior who has had two ACL surgeries is dealing with a cyst in the back of his knee that's caused him discomfort.
Clemson plays three Southeastern Conference teams during its seven-game non-conference portion of the schedule, starting with Mississippi State on Nov. 25 in Melbourne, Florida. They also face Alabama in Atlanta and play state rival South Carolina in December. The Tigers face former ACC member Maryland, now in the Big Ten, on Dec. 9.
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