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Critical year ahead for Brad Brownell and Clemson

Doug Buffington/Icon Sportswire

Brad Brownell is entering his seventh season as head coach of the Clemson Tigers. While he has had a modicum of success (amassing a 107-87 record at the school), he may be coming to a crossroads in his career.

After taking the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament in his first year on the job, Brownell has not been back since. He has just one NIT appearance (to his credit, the Tigers went to the semifinals) on his postseason resume.

The fact that — in his first year — he inherited a team that went to three straight NCAA Tournaments under predecessor Oliver Purnell—and barely got in at that—is hardly helping his cause. In six years at Clemson, he has hardly crafted any major success of his own.

Brownell is a good coach, though—let’s not bury the facts.

He has compiled a career coaching record of 274–172 with prior stops at UNC Wilmington and Wright State. Brownell took both Wilmington and Wright State to the NCAA Tournament and has shown he has the chops to coach with the best of them.

However, he jumped into the frying pan when he signed up to compete against Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams. The ACC is a dog-eat-dog world which can make even the strongest coaches crumble to their knees.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Brownell and his Tigers—quite the contrary.

He is bringing back All-ACC First Team member Jaron Blossomgame Jr., which means he can think big—NCAA Tournament big.

Blossomgame is coming off a junior season in which he averaged 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, while shooting a blistering 44.6 percent from three-point range. The senior declined to enter the NBA Draft for one more crack at a chance to go dancing.

Brownell and Blossomgame will feed off each other in their quest to complete unfinished business.

Blossomgame is one of the most explosive, athletic and versatile players in the country. A positionless player, he can play inside and out and is lethal in transition.

I hate to say this, but Jaron has seen his “game” really “blossom” in the last three years. (I’ll let myself out).

He averaged just 4.9 points per game his freshman season and now enters his senior campaign as an ACC Player of the Year front-runner with Duke’s Grayson Allen. Blossomgame is poised to become one of the most decorated players to ever play for Clemson.

He won’t have to do it all by himself, either.

Avry Holmes (10 points and 2.6 assists per game) and Donte Grantham (10.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game) also return for Brownell. This trio has a lot of experience navigating the treacherous landmine that is ACC play.

Solid role players — senior center Sidy Djitte (5.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game) and junior wing Gabe DeVoe (5.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game) — are also back.

Brownell is also bringing in a difference maker in the post. Texas A&M transfer Elijah Thomas, a 6-9, 230-pound power forward and former four-star recruit, transferred to Clemson last January and will be eligible to play in December.

Brownell has the roster to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid. No one is asking him to win the ACC or crack the top 10. The Tigers have to at least win 20 games (preferably nine wins coming in ACC action) and make the Big Dance.

If Clemson does that, it will keep the heat off Brownell. From there he can begin to bring even better talent to Clemson. It could have a snowball effect everyone at the school has been waiting for.

While the Clemson faithful is in love with its football program, eyes should soon shift to the hardwood, where a special season may be in store Brownell.

He’ll need it.

Critical year ahead for Brad Brownell and Clemson

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