Clemson’s Brownell looks to build on season

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Clemson’s Brad Brownell would love to have high-flying K.J. McDaniels return for his senior season instead of leave for the NBA. But whether the Tigers junior comes back or not, Brownell is confident his team will keep moving forward after its turnaround this season.

The fourth-year coach hasn’t spoken with McDaniels this week and is unsure when the 6-foot-6 forward will decide on his future, although he could learn when the team holds its annual banquet this week.

McDaniels, the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year, was the only one in the NCAA to lead his team in points, rebounds, blocks, steals and 3-pointers, and his loss would be a lot to make up next fall.

”I’ve sat here every year and talked about how I’ve lost my two leading scorers from the year before,” Brownell said Wednesday. ”I’d like to not do that.”

But Brownell understands the lure of the pros for McDaniels, whose name is among the late first-round selections in many NBA mock drafts. Brownell said he’ll continue speaking with McDaniels about his prospects and will support whatever choice his junior forward makes.

Should McDaniels leave, that shouldn’t halt the improvements for Clemson, which went from 13 wins and the program’s first losing season in nine years in 2012-13 to a 23-13 overall mark, just its fourth 10-win ACC showing in history and run to the NIT semifinals.

That was from expected as the Tigers were picked 14th out of 15 teams in the ACC preseason rankings. Brownell didn’t buy into the projections and made sure his players didn’t either.

”Last year was difficult and even though we finished poorly, we were not as far away as most thought,” he said.

That showed early on in ACC play when Clemson won four of its first five, including two victories on the road and a 72-59 triumph over No. 16 Duke. The Tigers relied on defense – Clemson was second in the ACC and fifth nationally in fewest points allowed – and just enough offense to steal games at the end. Seven of its 10 league wins came by seven points or less.

Brownell thought it was a couple of close defeats late that cost the Tigers a chance at an even more special season. Clemson was surprised at struggling Wake Forest on February 25th, 62-57, then dropped an overtime game at home to Pittsburgh, 83-78, when the Tigers held a five-point lead in the final five seconds of regulation.

Clemson was on the verge of a second win over Duke at the ACC tournament, but Rodney Hood’s two foul shots with 3.8 seconds left gave the Blue Devils a 63-62 victory.

”I would’ve liked to have won a couple more at the end and snuck in” to the NCAA tournament, Brownell said. ”I thought we were close enough to getting there.”

Brownell figures to have most of team back. Junior Rod Hall was leader at point guard who averaged just shy of 10 points a game, second best to McDaniels’ 17.1 point average.

Damarcus Harrison, in his second year since transferring from BYU, became a factor late in the season after an uneven start. Harrison scored in double figures in nine of Clemson’s last 12 games after going more than two months without scoring more than eight points in a game.

Freshman Jaron Blossomgame showed McDaniels-like explosiveness, but missed Clemson’s last three games after falling hard in the NIT opening win over Georgia State and suffering a hairline fracture. Brownell expected Blossomgame to be ready to go in a week or two for offseason workouts.

The Tigers also expect to have a couple of offensive-minded players next year. Patrick Rooks missed last year because of hip surgery after looking as if he could be the team’s most reliable long-range shooter, Brownell said.

Clemson also brings in 6-4 guard Gabe DeVoe, the AP boys’ player of the year in North Carolina who averaged 34 points a game this season.

Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich has reached out to Brownell about a contract extension, the coach said.

”I’m very proud of what we got done this season,” he said. ”We’d certainly love to take the next step.”