Clemson strives to match up with ACC’s elite guards
CHARLOTTE — When he was a high school assistant in the mid-1980s, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey remembers hearing a juicy quote from Abe Lemons, who was more legendary for his one-liners than his coaching record.
Clemson 2013-14 schedule
CLEMSON SCHEDULE (all times Eastern)
Nov. 8 Stetson 7 p.m.
Nov. 13 Delaware State 7 p.m.
Nov. 17 South Carolina 5 p.m.
Nov. 21-24 Charleston Classic
Nov. 29 Coastal Carolina 7 p.m.
Dec. 3 SC State 7 p.m.
Dec. 7 at Arkansas 2 p.m.
Dec. 14 Furman 7 p.m.
Dec. 19 at Auburn 8 p.m.
Dec. 30 VMI 7 p.m.
Jan. 4 at Boston College 4 p.m.
Jan. 9 Florida State 7 p.m.
Jan. 11 Duke 2 p.m.
Jan. 15 at Virginia Tech 7 p.m.
Jan. 18 Wake Forest 4 p.m.
Jan. 21 at Pittsburgh 8 p.m.
Jan. 26 at North Carolina 6 p.m.
Feb. 1 at Florida State 4 p.m.
Feb. 4 Georgia Tech 8 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Syracuse 6 p.m.
Feb. 11 at Notre Dame 7 p.m.
Feb. 15 Virginia Noon
Feb. 18 NC State 7 p.m.
Feb. 22 at Georgia Tech Noon
Feb. 25 at Wake Forest 7 p.m.
Mar. 2 Maryland 1 p.m.
Mar. 4 Miami 8 p.m.
Mar. 8 Pittsburgh 4 p.m.
Mar. 12-16 ACC Tournament, Greensboro, N.C.
“If you ain’t got guards,” Lemons said, “you ain’t got (expletive.)”
The point was simple, and it still brings a grin to Brey’s face: the court marshals are the ones bringing the ball up the court and taking the outside shots.
It’s especially true in college basketball, and the way of life in Brey’s new league as Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh join forces with the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Through the years, going back to North Carolina’s Michael Jordan, the great guards like Duke’s Grant Hill and J.J. Redick, Wake Forest’s Chris Paul, UNC’s Ty Lawson, Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez and Virginia Tech’s Erick Green have left their footprints on the ACC.
“Good guard play is the key at any level of basketball,” Brey said. “If the (YMCA) guys got good guards, they got a good team. If they can’t get across half court, it’s going to be a problem.”
Around the ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Charlotte during ACC Operation Basketball, few disagreed with Brey’s stance.
From UNC’s Marcus Paige: “In college basketball as a whole, guards control the game. I know it’s nice to have big guys that can score, but guards dictate the play of the game and ultimately decide.”
From Miami’s Rion Brown: “I would almost bet there have been more guards drafted into the NBA from the ACC than big men. When you have to control everything that’s going on, get teammates shots, get yourself shots any time you want, that’s something you can’t teach.”
From Duke’s Tyler Thornton: “It’s probably the most important position. If you don’t have any guards to bring the ball over the court to set things up, then there’s no basketball. You’ll find that in our conference, competition at the guard level is always very high.”
That’s the level Clemson is trying to reach; consistent, balanced guard play. Which is why amidst the high-flying abilities of forward K.J. McDaniels and the steady leadership of Rod Hall, so much responsibility has been hoisted onto the back of the only Tiger who stands less than six feet tall.
“It’s in my mind — (assistant) coach (Earl) Grant and (head) coach (Brad) Brownell stress it a lot to get the team the best shot we can,” sophomore point guard Jordan Roper said.
“It’s not necessarily just me not shooting anymore; I still have open looks and what not. But whether that’s getting K.J. on the post-up or having someone in transition or just handling the ball while running a play, getting guys in the right position is very important.”
Hall actually led Clemson in assists last season (3.5 per game), and he figures to start alongside Roper, who actually shot much better from 3-point range (41.4 percent) than inside the arc (35.8 percent) while handing out fewer than one assist per game.
“As guards, we have to be the ones to distribute to the big guys, and all the guys around the court,” Hall said. “We have to be the main leaders on the court, so everybody follows us.”
Clemson (13-18 overall and 5-13 in the ACC last season) only lost two players to graduation: forwards Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, its two leading rebounders. As for guard depth, Roper, Hall, Adonis Filer and Damarcus Harrison return, plus Devin Coleman is back from injury and Austin Ajukwa gives Clemson a freshman talent.
“If you’re going to be inexperienced — and this will be the second year where we’ve been a little inexperienced — I’d much rather be inexperienced in the post than the perimeter,” Brownell said. “When your perimeter guys are younger, those are the guys making most of the decisions. So this year, we do have some guys who have been through it a little bit. They’re the guys who are going to have the ball in their hands. I do feel good about that. I do think those guys will continue to grow and develop, and learn from the mistakes of last year.”
The Tigers must improve their dreadful 3-point marksmanship (31.7 percent) if they want to climb up the ACC standings. They finished ahead of only Virginia Tech, which also shot 31 percent from deep.
“We’ll definitely be a better shooting team. We’ve done a lot of extra shooting on our own, as well as coming in the morning and lifting weights,” McDaniels said. “We shoot so much. Damarcus, me and Josh (Smith), we play extra after practice. We’ll be a much better shooting team with the extra work.”