TRACK THE TIGERS IN THE BIG APPLE
What: National Invitation Tournament semifinal
When: April 1, 7 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City
Who: Clemson (23-12) vs. SMU (26-9)
Follow beat writer Aaron Brenner for updates from New York on Twitter @Aaron_Brenner
CLEMSON - Behold the contrast in head coaches who will pace the sideline in Tuesday's first of two NIT semifinals in New York City.
Clemson's Brad Brownell has never before, as a player, coach or fan, been to Madison Square Garden. Southern Methodist's Larry Brown? He, um, has.
Brownell's Tigers own 23 wins in 35 games this year. Brown's Knicks, the Garden's usual inhabitant, won 23 games in 82 games in 2005-06, Brown's lone season in New York for that reason.
Brown's coaching career was born in 1965 as a North Carolina assistant to legendary head coach Dean Smith. Brownell was born in 1968 in Evansville, Ind.
It's gonna be fun Tuesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 for the Tigers (23-12), and definitely for Brownell, who's adding to his list of firsts. The 45-year-old's first overseas excursion was last August on Clemson's 10-day, four-game Italian tour.
"Looking forward to it. Haven't been there as a fan or a coach," Brownell said. "Obviously it's one of the meccas of college basketball, so one of your goals as a coach is to coach in all the different places. We'll check this one off the box."
Whereas Brownell's story is figuratively told in The Script's "For the First Time," the subject of Brown is more suited for Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere." He's coached a third of the NBA's franchises, plus prior stints in the defunct ABA as well as at UCLA and Kansas.
Brown's the only coach to claim an NCAA title (Kansas, 1988) and an NBA championship (Detroit Pistons, 2004). If SMU defeats Clemson and either Minnesota or Florida State, the Hall of Fame coach can add an NIT crown to the trophy case, and do it near his native Brooklyn.
"I don't know if they'll let me in. I did not feel good about New York because I didn't do a real good job coaching the Knicks," Brown said after SMU's 67-65 win over Cal on Wednesday, per the school's website. "But for my team, we talked about this: growing up, the NIT was huge when I was a boy.
"I'm so thankful our kids are going to get to have that opportunity."
So will Clemson's kids, the senior-less group hardly expected to compete for an NCAA tournament berth - and never thought to play in April, which the Tigers will do for the first time in program history.
"It's a great feeling to keep advancing in the postseason," junior guard Damarcus Harrison said. "This year, this has been our goal. I think we're living the dream this year, for the Clemson Tigers. We're out there playing for the fans and playing for the university."
SMU (26-9) was the No. 1 seed in its quarter of the NIT bracket, unsurprisingly since the Mustangs were considered the top snub from the NCAA field. Minnesota and FSU also were top seeds; Clemson was No. 3.
The Mustangs, Tigers, Golden Gophers and Seminoles all at some point or another this winter possessed an NCAA-caliber resume, but each had to settle for the consolation tournament.
"There's nothing you can do about that, so you focus on the next task, and the next task was to play well in this tournament," Brownell said. "The guys have responded very well. We've had to beat some good teams, so it's been very rewarding."
In Clemson's case, the season will surpass eight months from first practice to final game. The Tigers aren't sick of each other yet.
"I believe the trip to Italy helped us out a lot with our confidence," junior forward K.J. McDaniels said. "We spend a lot of time together outside the court. So I had a feeling we were going to go this far.
"I wish we could've been in the NCAAs, but this is much better."
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