CLEMSON — Two exhibition games have passed, the regular season opener is here and for a Clemson men's basketball team that has essentially only scrimmaged itself over the last several months, a new challenge is welcomed at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Western Carolina comes into town to take on Brad Brownell's Tigers on Friday in a game with low stakes itself as a non-conference opener but one with potential to have crucial ramifications off the court.
According to a report from WSPA-TV7, Zion Williamson is expected to be at Clemson some time this weekend on an unofficial visit. The report stated Williamson's plan was to either attend the Clemson basketball game on Friday night or the Clemson-Florida State football game on Saturday afternoon. Williamson is the high school sensation out of Spartanburg who is among the nation's top high school recruits and has drawn comparisons to LeBron James. Rapper Drake has a custom Williamson jersey.
Per NCAA rules, Brownell is not permitted to talk about Williamson but a Clemson win and a Littlejohn environment that makes a favorable impression would certainly do nothing to hurt Clemson's chances with him.
The Tigers have to do their part on the court though, and there are still plenty of questions this early in the season.
"I think we certainly have five guys that are experienced," Brownell said. "I think we're still working through some things offensively that have to get better and we turn the ball over too much. But I think defensively, we've made some strides. I think our competitive spirit defensively has been pretty good. I'm excited to see it here in a live game."
Clemson has a new look this year without the likes of Jaron Blossomgame, but also one that will appear more balanced on the offensive side of the ball as more players are called upon to fill the void.
Brownell said he did not know if there would be one player who would emerge statistically a la Blossomgame and consistently put up 15-plus points a night. He said he did not know how exactly the pieces might come together with Blossomgame gone. But what he likes about this 2017 squad is the myriad options he has. On any given night, any given player could explode, which bodes well against opposing defenses who now have to pick their poison. In the past, they could lock down on Blossomgame.
"I think we have a lot of guys that are capable of scoring 16 or 17 points in a game. I don't know if we'll have one that will average that. We might," Brownell said. "I think we have some weapons. I think we can score both down and around the basket. But I also think we have plenty of guys that can make 3-pointers. We'll just have to wait and see how it kind of works itself out."
Friday will be the final season opener for a handful of seniors looking to make an NCAA Tournament run in their last season, with Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham spearheading that initiative.
DeVoe said he is playing more freely, and therefore with more confidence.
"I think me shooting the ball will be big for us this year," he said. "And then also helping out on the defensive end."
Grantham said now is the time for the Tigers to emerge.
"We've played everywhere and we've been in every type of situation," he said. "It's our turn to step up. So we're stepping up to that plate."