Brad Brownell hears the outside noise.
The longtime Clemson men’s basketball coach knows how badly fans of the program crave success, and Brownell wants that same success.
The head coach wants the Tigers set up for success long term, though, and to do that he needs to build a program. One in which the foundation is built upon culture, and he thinks the Tigers are on the right path.
When meeting with the media for the first time since the season ended in heartbreaking fashion against Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament, Brownell asked those in attendance if they knew how many ACC teams had made three tournament appearances in the past five seasons.
The answer is five. He then went on to remind those same media members that Clemson made two appearances over that same time span, something that Brownell takes great pride in.
“We’ve been to two,” Brownell said. “Syracuse has been to two. Miami has been to two. Everybody else below that. So there’s an element of consistency that I am proud of.”
After getting bounced in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in 2021, some that followed the program were excited for the potential of last seasons team. However, despite PJ Hall taking a major jump in his development as a sophomore, the Tigers lost talented freshmen Lynn Kidd and Olivier-Maxence Prosper following the 2020-21 season. This left a team that was already small at guard, very undersized, and forced Brownell into having to rely on true freshmen Ian Schefflin and Ben Middlebrooks a little earlier than he probably would have preferred.
Add in injuries to Hall and veteran Hunter Tyson, and Brownell’s team faced some pretty serious obstacles last season. And all of those reasons are just a part of why the head coach is extremely proud of what he got from his team last season, despite failing to reach the NCAA, or even the NIT Tournaments.
“If you really followed us and you followed the stories and you watched our kids, you just were really impressed and pleased with the way they wouldn’t give in,” Brownell said. “We lost a million close games, we had some heartbreaking defeats, we had two shots at the buzzer that didn’t go in. We obviously had a couple that did (go in) against us. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes that’s basketball, and I, as a coach, got to do a better job of figuring out ways to make sure that either we don’t get into that situation or that when we do, we finish it.”
Again, the ultimate goal is building a program and that takes time. Although, after 12 years on the job, many inside the fan base believe that Brownell has had more than enough time.
On the other hand, considering the lack of any real, sustained success over the entire history of the program, how bare the cupboard was when he took over, plus having to go out and trying to recruit with no actual facility to use as a recruiting tool early on in his tenure, there is also an argument to be made that a little more time has been earned.
“It’s pretty hard to recruit for a couple of those years,” Brownell said about the years the Tigers were playing home games in Greenville. “We can’t show you anything. ‘Here’s a rendering, do you believe us?’ We’re over there with the dance team, the volleyball team, and sharing lockers and stuff with the soccer team. Those were some tough years to have good teams.”
At the end of the day, Brownell is proud of what he’s been able to accomplish with the Tigers, and the head coach maintains that what he’s been able to get done at Clemson has earned him the respect many of his peers around the ACC.
“I know there’s a level of some frustration with us and our program with wanting more and wanting more, and believe me, the guy who wants it the most is me,” Brownell said. “But I think last season was an example of the kind of program we have. We’ve had one losing season since I’ve been the head coach at Clemson. You can go through the league, and almost every other school has had that or more. Most of them have had a lot more.
“There’s a level of consistency and a competitive spirit in our program that should be a little bit more admired by some people. I think we have a lot of respect from a lot of people in our league, I know that. Coaches and players and even administrators. I know because I talk to some of them.”
However, while proud of what the Tigers have accomplished, Brownell is far from satisfied. His goal for the program is the same as those who have grown frustrated with his leadership. And while taking that next step won’t be easy, Brownell has every intention getting over that hump. But in order to do so, also knows the team needs support from the fans.
“We’re all trying to get to that next step, but that next step is really hard,” Brownell said. “That next step of going to tournaments every other year, and advancing, is tough. Everybody better be supportive of it.”
New AD Graham Neff has already laid out his expectations for the program going forward. Now Brownell has also laid out his goals for the program, promising not to shy away from high expectations.
“We’re not going to shy away from expectations,” Brownell said. “I want to try to go to a Final Four here.”
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