CLEMSON -- During picture day prior to the season, some people around the Clemson men's basketball program whispered this season needed to be the year of Devin Booker and Milton Jennings if the Tigers were to return to the NCAA tournament. While the junior forwards were the two most physically talented players of the six upperclassmen in the 2011-12 team photo, the season proved they were not quite ready to emerge as leaders.
Next season, Booker and Jennings will be the only upperclassmen in the team photo.
Clemson failed to make the NCAA tournament this March for the first time since 2007 and is not participating in the postseason for the first time since 2004. Coach Brad Brownell indicated the challenge to return to the postseason could be even greater next season with 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. Brownell said Booker and Jennings will need breakout seasons for Clemson to play meaningful basketball in March.
"I think they have both got to take another big step for us to truly be successful next year," Brownell said. "I think it's more important than our sophomores all rising …. You don't plan to go into a season with two upperclassmen. It's just not how you organize things." The encouraging signs for Brownell are Booker and Jennings have improved each year they have been on campus.
Booker nearly averaged a double-double in ACC play, finishing the season averaging 10.5 points and 7 rebounds per game.
"He showed toughness," Brownell said. "He has to be more consistent as a player. He has to show more positive emotion. He has to speak in more huddle. … It's not in Devin's personality, but it better become somebody's personality."
Jennings, the former McDonald's All-American from Pinewood Prep, showed improvement in February, shooting 45 percent from 3-point range. He'll need to continue such shooting as Clemson was 11th in the ACC in 3-point shooting (32 percent) and graduates its top shooter in Andre Young.
"One of the things Milton did late is he played with better confidence," Brownell said. "His confidence has been a problem throughout his career. Unbelievably high expectations were put on him when he got here. So much so that most kids would have failed or struggled, at least. He has had to kind of battle through that."
While Booker and Jennings must take steps forward, so must the six rising sophomores on the roster. K.J. McDaniels has ideal height (6-6) and athleticism on the wing, but Brownell said he is still learning perimeter skills after playing nearer the basket in high school.
"His physical tools are terrific," Brownell said. "He makes some plays you can't coach. Your jaw is going to drop."