Fresh on the heels of a Sweet Sixteen run in Brad Brownell’s most successful season to date, the Clemson Basketball team entered the 2018-19 season in unfamiliar territory. With four key pieces returning, expectations within the fan base were at a level that hadn’t been experienced in the Upstate for quite sometime. Appearing in multiple preseason top 25 polls only enhanced those expectations.
Once the season tipped off, it didn’t take long to see that those expectations might have been a little unrealistic. Early losses to Creighton and Nebraska were early indicators. Even in some of the early wins in out of conference play, the signs were there. Something just seemed off, and a season that started with a lot of excitement, ended with a lot of frustration.
Looking ahead to this coming season, there are a lot of questions. Brad Brownell will have a roster full of new faces. Four of the five starters from last season have now moved on. Backup big men Javon White and Malik William both are transferring out.
Not exactly known for his recruiting prowess, Brownell signed his best recruiting class to date last cycle. The timing of it couldn’t have worked out any better considering the way things have gone during the offseason.
Clyde Trapp, the projected starter at PG, is out for the season with a torn ACL. Jonathon Baehre, a projected starter, also out with a torn ACL. This after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Both guys were expected to play major roles. Trapp was set to step into Shelton Mitchell’s role as the primary ball handler and Baehre was expected to be the focal point of the offense.
With the team being selected to represent the United States in the World University Games, Brownell can get a head start on developing some of the youth he will now have to rely on in 2019-20. Al-Amir-Dawes, a four star combo guard and Top 100 player in the 2019 class, is one of those players.
Brownell has never been keen on true freshman playing major roles, but with Trapp’s injury, that’s precisely the type of role Dawes will have to play. The University Games will serve as a great test of his readiness to run the floor.
Transfer point guard Nick Honor has been starting these games, but Dawes has seen plenty of minutes. Honor will have to sit out this season due to transfer rules, so every minute of experience Dawes can get will be beneficial.
Another true freshman and Top 150 player, Chase Hunter should also see plenty of minutes next season, even if only in a reserve role. One thing this team sorely lacked last season was a shooter, and the 3 star shooting guard can shoot the ball.
One guy making the most of these games is junior PF Amir Simms. He could be considered one of the biggest disappointments last season. After showing tons of promise as a freshman, he didn’t take that next step in his development that most expected. The argument could be made that he even regressed somewhat.
Simms has looked like a different player in Italy. After seeming to struggle with his confidence last season, he’s looked like a man among boys overseas. It’s imperative that this is the Simms who takes the floor for the Tigers next season. The confident Simms. The one taking advantage of his size instead of always camped out along the 3 point line.
The 2019-20 Tigers are going to be mostly inexperienced and severely undersized. These games have allowed Brownell to experiment with different styles of play. With so many guards on the rosterv and forwards like Simms and Tevin Mack, the team has been pushing the tempo more than we’re used to seeing with Brownell’s teams. It’s a style that should serve this team better than the motion offense would come time for ACC play.
Make no mistake, 2019-20 is a rebuilding year for the Tigers. This team could very likely be picked to finish in the bottom third of the conference. The injuries have only exacerbated the situation.
Playing in these games gives some of these young guys a chance to do some growing up before the season starts. It also gives the coaches a chance to mix and match in an effort to find what works and what won’t. It’s a situation most coaches would love to be in.
It’s also given these players a chance to represent their country. They have not only done so better than most imagined they would, they’re also just one more win away from winning that gold medal, and that’s something only a very small percentage of us get a shot at.