Amid the football program’s most glorified ascension in decades, the Clemson basketball team is the one making the ripples in recruiting.
On Oct. 4, the Tigers snuck a commitment from Donte Grantham, a 6-foot-8, 200-pound swing forward out of Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy.
Grantham is the highest-ranked recruit of coach Brad Brownell’s five recruiting classes (Brownell came so late that we shouldn’t count his first class – guard Cory Stanton, who followed from Wichita State – against him). He ranks No. 66 by Rivals.com and No. 91 by Scout.com, basically amounting to the program’s most acclaimed get since 2009 McDonald’s All-American Milton Jennings, an in-state product.
The Grantham acquisition is significant on a number of fronts. But let’s cut to the chase.
Brownell is coming off the first losing season of his three-season tenure, and he’s not trending in a favorable direction, having gone from a 22-win debut season to 16 wins the next season to a 13-18 record a year ago.
Taken in isolation, that poses a threat to any coach’s job security. But add in the fact Brownell has a new boss in first-year athletic director Dan Radakovich, who has grand designs on potentially overseeing new arena construction in the near future – well, suffice it to say, Brownell’s longevity figures to hinge on demonstrating a substantial measure of improvement in a hurry.
College coaches like to publicly dismiss the relevance of recruiting rankings. But the coverage boom the last decade has proven a boon for them in one respect:
Hope buys time.
It is easy for an administration to ditch a coach for which the future lacks promise to the athletic department’s customers, e.g. the fans.
Grantham’s anticipated arrival could give the staff a bit more room for error this season – one in which the ACC adds in several teams with superior talent and also requires the Tigers to go on the road for an unforgiving stretch of five contests in a six-game span.
Brownell and assistants have validated their reputation for developing players; standout forward K.J. McDaniels serving as prime example. But the knock on his tenure has been the staff’s inability to recruit enough college-ready skill to viably stay an NCAA Tournament team amid a league stocked with top-100 talent.
That the Tigers pushed so fervently for Grantham speaks to the state of talent desperation. Clemson enters this season with the NCAA-maximum 13 scholarship players, none of whose eligibility expires. In adding lightly recruited guard Gabe DeVoe earlier this fall, it already signaled somebody won’t be back. Taking Grantham as an additional oversign amplified the message that it’s a make or break point for all involved.
Grantham picked the Tigers over NCAA runner-up Michigan, a program that carried exponentially more panache in regards to tradition and visibility beyond last year’s outcomes.
Clemson can only hope that scoreboard moment translates into momentum on the 2015 recruiting trail.
An undervalued concept in basketball recruiting is that good players want to play with good players. There’s a chicken/egg hurdle to clear in all rebuilding situations. Clemson football fans recognize that signing Atlanta four-star running back James Davis in 2005 was the domino that set the program’s recruiting successes in motion; Davis played a major role in attracting C.J. Spiller, Spiller’s profile in Florida piqued Sammy Watkins’ interest, and so forth.
Clemson’s basketball staff does a commendable job of getting the Tigers in the door first with a number of quality young prospects. Scoring Grantham was a coup for assistant coach Steve Smith, who replaced Rick Ray (Mississippi State’s head coach) as one of the two primary recruiters on Clemson’s staff.
Yet while playing in the ACC remains attractive to plenty of kids in their geographic reach, the program has lacked the prestige to hold off the competition once Clemson’s interest draws the other schools’ attention to those kids.
Grantham will be marketed as Brownell’s centerpiece as the basketball coaches work to the 2015 and ’16 classes the remainder of the lengthy evaluation period.
On the court, Grantham fills a pressing roster need. Ideally, Brownell’s motion offense would feature a power forward who could stretch defenses as a 3-point shooter, have the offensive range to be a skillful high-post passer with a capable handle, but also boast the height, size and strength to function as both a post and perimeter defender.
That’s asking a lot. But the bar is set low after Jennings’ disappointing career.
Brownell’s tenure has been snakebitten with injuries, none more gut-punching than swingman Jaron Blossomgame’s fractured leg suffered in the summer leading to his freshman campaign last year.
Blossomgame returns to action this year, but he’s believed a long way from trusting his movement – much less regaining his explosiveness.
He is slated to share time at the four spot along with junior college transfer Ibrahim Djambo, a slender 6-10 spot-up shooter.
If Blossomgame can get back the leaping ability and natural motor displayed during his high school career, he and Grantham would give Brownell one of the ACC’s most athletic forward combos for a few years to come even after McDaniel’s departure.
It’s just a matter of Brownell making it to that stage.
With its 2014 football class in a holding pattern, Clemson signed off on bringing in a trio of prospects to begin its 2015 collection.
Well, sort of. Early in October, the Tigers picked up Blythewood (S.C.) three-star linebacker Jalen Williams.
Williams is a 2014 prospect who was given a grayshirt offer at the end of the summer, meaning he would enroll late as a member of the 2015 haul. But recently, Clemson coaches told him odds strongly favor Williams gaining a spot in the ’14 class once it gets closer to signing day or even next spring.
Taking Williams is viewed as a telling move in light of Clemson already holding a pair of 2015 linebacker commitments. Those two are Daniel (S.C.)’s Judah and J.D. Davis, twin sons of Jeff Davis, a former Clemson star linebacker with a prominent role within football administration. Those offers were given by coach Dabo Swinney, and neither prospect was being actively recruited by any other school at any level. You get the point.
Meanwhile, the Tigers also snared commitments from Boiling Springs (S.C.) offensive tackle Noah Green and Charlotte (N.C.) West Mecklenburg safety Van Smith. Green, whose parents met at Clemson, had offers from South Carolina, UNC and Vanderbilt. Smith – a teammate of N.C. State ’14 quarterback commitment Jalan McClendon and Duke ’14 running back commitment Shaun Wilson – projects as a top-25 in-state prospect for the 2015 cycle.