The Missing Piece of the Clemson Basketball Puzzle

There’s an almost intermittent, schizophrenic like relationship and emotions regarding Clemson’s Men’s Basketball program. It’s always been that way.

One game up, the next two or three or four down, it’s just a part of the sport. It’s like spending weeks passionately and methodically putting together a puzzle and when all the pieces are combined, you realize one piece is missing. It’s frustratingly incomplete.

Honestly, I admit that I have zero skill and have never even played any sport other than basketball. Well, kinda. My skills and agility afforded me a permanent spot on the team, but my comfort zone, my kingdom, was situated at the far end of the bench.

While knowing the truth about my lack of athletic abilities, there is one thing I learned from the bench, my safe place. Support is everything, noise is sweet music, excitement is the fuel that ignites.

In writing these articles, I’ve been much more dialed in this season. My forte isn’t writing of techniques nor fundamentals, it’s about trying to grasp what’s really going on with this team and this season. I search for the why’s and the what ifs. That’s fluff, not form or function, that’s definitely me. Just like my writings, mostly fluff, not so much stuff.

It’s amazing, being a part of an emotionally, passionately connected Clemson Family that loudly supports that which they love, their team. How one play can change the momentum and possibly the outcome of the game, can never be understated. You just sit and watch in amazement as your team rallies to a once unlikely but deserved victory.

In the early eighties, during my student years on campus, I immersed myself in football season. Tailgating, the crowds, the Marching Tiger Band and awesome teams and winning didn’t hurt.

My college memories are filled with the excitement of being in the crowd. However, My game was basketball. Littlejohn Coliseum used to rock almost every singe game. The student enrollment, minuscule compared with today’s numbers, would fill the seats and the air with noise, lots of noise regardless of records or the quality of the opponent.

All these ramblings brings us to that missing piece of the Clemson Basketball puzzle. Simply put, it’s a constant passion, a “fire in the gut.” By team AND fans.

Watching the Georgia Tech game, down 13 points with a little over six minutes to play, it happened. Naz Bohanon made a huge bucket, keying a comeback win.

It was that one huge play that engages the team, the coaches and the fans in the stands. Over that six minutes this team’s passion, it’s pride as worthy competitors, shined through. Every thing that was unfolding on the floor was fueled by everything happening both on the court and in the stands.

Growing up, we rarely missed a game in Death Valley but it was a really special treat to head to Littlejohn Coliseum to watch a game. We sat behind the Clemson bench, where I was most comfortable. I was in my element. There I could be as loud as a bullhorn and as physically demonstrative in my body language. I’d end up not only with a headache but add a strained back and knees. Win or lose, the toll on my body was the same. I loved watching every dribble, every rebound and every shot.

If you take care of what and who you are then, somehow, one day there will be success. That success will be sweeter, more exhilarating and beyond anything imagined. It is never easy or even probable that a program that plays by the rules, is going to dwell near the pinnacle of success yearly. Regardless, this program, this university begins and ends by doing everything with integrity.

As mentioned many times before, Clemson Football casts a long foreboding shadow. While everyone relishes in the phenomenal success of Dabo Swinney’s team. However, it has one, small down side and that is unrealistic expectations for the other major sports, mostly basketball. At times I just failed to see the handicaps faced by the program. No, not excuses disguised as handicaps, they are real and well founded .

The understanding of knowing and accepting this program’s limitations and still find passion, that is the precious lost puzzle piece. Brad Brownell is a great coach, a great leader and teacher. He’s proven that he can (and usually does) do more with less. Less budget, less enthusiastic support and a less than stellar basketball tradition and track record.

The hot seat at Clemson has been the constant, rumored destination for Brownell. While there seems to be valid reasons for some to part ways, there is one overriding reason to keep this relationship, integrity.

So, as the regular season draws to an end, I dare not speculate on the outcome of the final game. I won’t even prognosticate the result of the upcoming ACC Tournament. However, I can only watch and support this proud bunch of Tigers, as they try to find and help us find that elusive puzzle piece.

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