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Clemson Tiger season preview

2002-03 Record: 15-13, 5-12 (ACC)
3-Year Record: 40-49, 12-39 (ACC)
Last Tournament Appearence: 1998-99 NIT
Arena: Littlejohn Coliseum (10,980)
Head Coach: Oliver Purnell (career: 256-191, Clemson: 0-0)
Assistants: Ron Bradley, Kevin Nickelberry, Frank Smith

Projected starters:
PG Shawan Robinson 6-2/183 SO (5 ppg, 1 rpg, 1 apg)
SG* Chey Chrisitie 6-4/183 JR (11 ppg, 3 rpg, 2 apg)
SF* Olu Babalola 6-6/240 JR (7 ppg, 3 rpg, 1 apg)
PF* Chris Hobbs 6-7/260 SR (6 ppg, 5 rpg, 1 apg)
C* Sharrod Ford 6-9/223 JR (7 ppg, 7rpg, 1apg)
*Returning Starters (last seasons statistics)

The rest of the active roster:
PG Vernon Hamilton 6-0/192 FR
PG Beau Shay 5-9/180 SR (0 ppg, 0 apg)
SG Jimmy Hudson 6-4/190 FR
SF Julian Betko 6-5/200 SO (2 ppg, 1 apg, 1 rpg)
SF Reed Long 6-5/210 FR
PF Akin Akingbala 6-9/230 SO (1 ppg, 1 rpg)
PF Lamar Rice 6-7/210 JR (Did Not Play)

C Steve Allen 6-10/230 rsSO (Did Not Play)

Outgoing contributors:
PG Edward Scott (17 ppg, 6 apg, 3 rpg)
F/C Ray Henderson (5 ppg, 4 rpg)
F Tomas Nagys (6 ppg, 4 rpg)

Oh yes, the smell of a new college basketball year is upon us. The weather changes from temperatures that Hell would be jealous of, to a nice and gentle high of 59; but on the court, the temperature is about to rise here at Clemson, South Carolina.

A new era is sweeping over Littlejohn Coliseum; a new attitude has been running through the streets of Clemson; and this small football town has caught the basketball fever. That’s right, a new coach in Oliver Purnell has arrived, and the mindset at Clemson has changed from football to basketball. Well, OK, maybe it hasn’t officially, I just thought I could put that fake Hollywood spin in the column to make it sound more... well, forget it, on with the preview.

The Tigers will take the court this 2003-2004 season minus Ray Henderson, Tomas Nagys, and Edward “Great” Scott. Scott was Clemson’s scoring (17.7), assist (5.8), free throw percentage (.739), 3-points made (44), and assist to turnover ration (2.0) leader for the Tigers last year. Losing a team leader like Edward Scott is crippling for a young Clemson team. So who’ll fill this void for the Tigers in Oliver Purnell’s first year at Clemson?

The point guard position will be handled by returning sophomore, Shawan Robinson, and true freshman, Vernon Hamilton. Robinson played in all 28 games for Clemson last year. He averaged 13.3 minutes per game, along with 4.9 points per game and 1.1 assist per game. In the opening scrimmage for Clemson this season, the Orange and White game, Robinson put up nine points in the 45-45 tie.

Hamilton, 6-0/ 192, comes to Clemson from Benedictine High School in Richmond, Virginia. He was a highly recruited point guard prospect on the East Coast, with offers from Utah, Richmond, Virginia Tech, Colorado, and DePaul. Scouts described him more as an assist man, than scorer during his high school and AAU (Richmond Squires) career. During the Orange and White game, Hamilton scored five points, had five rebounds, and had five assist to one turnover.

Look for these two to battle for this position all year, unless Coach Purnell looks to redshirt Hamilton for the upcoming season, which I strongly feel will not happen. Right now, Robinson has the edge on this battle with his experience, and scoring ability, but don’t be surprised if you see early in the year these two splitting time. One this is for sure, Clemson though quarterback controversies were something, the next three years, Clemson might have a point guard controversy on their hands, which is not a bad this with these two talented guards.

Speaking of guard, what about the other guard position, the two-guard, or commonly known as the shooting guard. Well, unlike the point guard position, Chey Chrisitie has this locked down. Christie is the Tigers top returning scoring from last year (11.5). The talented junior is a scoring threat any time with the ball. He’s one, if not the, fastest man on the Tigers’ team. During the Orange and White game, Chrisitie ended up with 12 points from four field goals and four free throws.

At the small forward position, look for Olu Babalola, junior, to get the starting role. Babalola returns from putting up 7.9 point per game last season, and stepping up as an unexpected 3-point shooter. For his size, 6-6/ 242, Babalola is quick. He might not be able to out run a guard down court, but his cut to the basket is quicker than most big men at 240+. During the Orange and White game, Babalola was Clemson’s high scorer with 13 points. He played all 30 minutes of the scrimmage and accounted for three rebounds and four assist.

Now we get to the post positions, starting with power forward. Chris Hobbs, who’ll be entering his last year with the Tigers. Last year, Hobbs posted 6.3 points per game, along with bringing down 5.5 rebounds per game. During the Orange and White scrimmage, Hobbs put up nine points. On a commentary note, I look for Hobbs’ senior year to be his best year yet. His first three years have been average, and with a teacher like Purnell, Hobbs might actually be able take his game to a new level; which will be much need if the Tigers look to surprise the competition this year.

With one of the most crucial positions in the game of basketball, Sharrod Ford should lock down the center position. Ford, a junior, has been a solid player for Clemson since his freshman year. Last year Ford piled together 6.8 rebounds a game and 7.5 points per game. Ford had 10 points and a game high of eight rebounds in the Orange and White scrimmage. Like Hobbs, I expect this inside big man to improve under Purnell’s first year at Clemson.

Off the bench, expect to hear the names of Lamar Rice, a junior college transfer, and Steve Allen, a 6-10 redshirt sophomore. Allen had an impressive scrimmage with 12 point and seven rebounds; however, he has not played a regular season game since the 2001-2002 season. Rice also added double figure numbers with 11 points and collected six rebounds. Look for these two to give Hobbs and Ford much need rest during the season, and put on their fair share of numbers. However, these two are not Clemson’s only big man coming off the bench, Akin Akingbala, 6-9 sophomore, had a solid scrimmage with six points and eight rebounds.

Also, look for Juliam Betko to get some solid playing time this year. The 6-5 sophomore, should see time coming off the bench for Babalola. However, he missed the Orange and White scrimmage after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. He is expected to miss two to four weeks.

You will see three Clemson newcomers this year. Hamilton is of course one of them, but the other two are 6-4 guard Jimmy Hudson from Eustis High School in Eustis, Florida, and 6-5 forward Reed Long from Wrenn High School in Piedmont, South Carolina. Long, an invited walk-on this October, average 27 points, 11 rebounds, and three steals his senior year at Wrenn. Hudson averaged 14 points a game and shot 47 percent from beyond the three-point line as a junior in high school. In only 28 games, Hudson committed just 13 turnovers.

Clemson will open up the season with opens the season with a three game home stretch against Gardner Webb, High Point, and Wofford. The Tigers will then travel to West Lafayette, Indiana to face Purdue in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Next is rivalry time as the Tigers head back to face the South Carolina Gamecocks, and head down I-85 to Athens, Georgia to face the Georgia Buldogs. East Tennessee State comes into Tiger Town, and then the Tigers are off to Cincinnati, Ohio to face the Bearcats in a rematch from a great match-up in Clemson last year. Back to Clemson for another Bulldog team in South Carolina State, followed by the team that gave Oliver Purnell his first head-coaching job, Radford. Boston College strolls into Clemson for a preview of the new ACC next year. Finally, ACC play opens up with Duke.

This season poses many questions for the Tigers this year. Can the Tigers manage without Edward Scott? How will Oliver Purnell’s first year at Clemson turn out? Can Purnell win with the current roster of players, or does Clemson fans need to hold they’re breath a little longer until Purnell can bring in the type of athletes that fit his game plan? Will the Tigers win in Chapel Hill before the series is halted due to expansion? Will the Tigers dwell in the basement again, or can they magically manage to bypass the ACC “play-in” game?

Despite the questions, one thing is for sure, this will be an exciting season for the Tigers. Not only do the fans, players, recruits, and administration get a chance to see what’s in store for the Tigers in the future under the Oliver Purnell era, we get to see a new look Tiger team make a name for themselves for years to come. Will the season ever get here?


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