Home away from home: Clemson basketball invades Greenville

Moments before the traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony, Brad Brownell stood outside admiring the view, with a few more tall buildings and perhaps an even higher future on the horizon.

Home sweet home, for the next year.

Clemson basketball has new digs in the interim, leasing out Bon Secours Wellness Arena in growing Greenville for approximately 15 games during the 2015-16 season. Clemson’s commencement ceremonies for that same school year also will be hosted at The Well.

What university and city leaders unite in hoping for the next year: pronouncing Clemson’s brand in the upstate’s largest community, not the least of which includes Clemson’s glittering new Project One building housing its MBA programs, which opened in the heart of Greenville’s Main Street a little over a year ago.

In terms of attracting new fans, next year’s home schedule at Bon Secours Wellness Arena includes visits from 2015 ACC regular-season champion Virginia, 2015 ACC Tournament champion Notre Dame, 2015 NCAA champion Duke and in-state rival South Carolina. Season tickets are already available for purchase.

“I think it’s going to be exciting for people from Greenville to see what that’s like,” said Brownell, who is 90-73 in five seasons as Clemson’s head coach. “Some of those folks maybe don’t make the trip down to Clemson. They may come for a game here in Greenville, and once they like what they see, they’ll come back on a consistent basis.”

Starting May 8, Littlejohn Coliseum will undergo a $63.5 million renovation with plans to reopen in the fall of 2016.

“We want people to come here and experience the product that we’re going to put on the court. Not just the Clemson product, but the Atlantic Coast Conference,” athletic director Dan Radakovich said. “So when we do move back to the new (arena), maybe we’ve gathered a few new fans who will follow us back to Clemson.”

Radakovich said plans are ongoing to arrange transportation for general fans and students from Clemson on game nights, adding, “we’ll have that pulled together well in advance of our first game here in November.”

Brownell expects to host a total of six non-conference games next fall — “I doubt we’ll do seven,” he said — which would be down from last season’s tally of eight.

Furman (in Greenville) and Wofford (Spartanburg), the latter of which has played in the last two NCAA tournaments, are possible non-conference opponents. Brownell said out-of-state foes are also to be expected.

“The next month or two is when things amp up in scheduling and get closer to knowing exactly who you’re going to play,” Brownell said. “College basketball coaches control things a little more in scheduling than football.”

Although it’s not official, Clemson does expect to arrange a home-and-home series with Georgia, which was a No. 10 seed the 2015 NCAA Tournament and lost to eventual Final Four participant Michigan State.

Brownell would ideally like the Bulldogs to help Clemson open the new Littlejohn a year and a half from now.

“(UGa coach) Mark Fox is a friend of mine, and so he and I have been talking. Usually you don’t like to play friends, but this is a game we should play every so often,” Brownell said. “Probably be at their place next year, and hopefully we can open our place with Georgia.”

While there might be some preseason practices in Greenville to help the Tigers’ shooters get acquainted to much deeper sightlines at the expansive arena, Brownell doesn’t plan to bus his players 45 minutes away for practice very often.

“Pretty soon you’ve taken a two-hour practice and turned it into a seven- or eight-hour day,” Brownell said. “Take time away from college students, and that’s the one thing they want to control. So we’ll find some times to get up here, certainly, but we have to balance and make sure we don’t overdo it.”

Clemson has not made the NCAA tournament since Brownell’s first season of 2010-11, but Brownell signed a long-term extension last summer — and Radakovich’s support has not waned.

“(Clemson basketball) can accomplish an awful lot,” Radakovich said. “Our goal is to be successful in the Atlantic Coast Conference, because being successful in this league is a springboard to doing great things on a national scale.”