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Swinney Loading Up For 2015

Monday, February 24, 2014 10:22am
  • Clemson coach Dabo Swinney (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
     Clemson coach Dabo Swinney (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
By: Clemson Insider

CLEMSON – Clemson welcomed a well-regarded 2014 recruiting class on Feb. 5, ranked in the top 15 to top 20 nationally by all major recruiting services, but coach Dabo Swinney and recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott were more focused on the Class of 2015.

The 20-member 2014 signing class was largely locked up by Jan. 1, with little drama, so the Clemson coaching staff spent most of its time down the stretch focusing on 2015 and 2016 prospects, and the effort is already paying off.

Hours after Swinney’s press conference on signing day, Clemson landed one of the top overall 2015 prospects when Suwanee, Ga., offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt announced his commitment. Hyatt is a five-star prospect and ranked by 247Sports as the nation’s top 2015 offensive tackle and No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2015.

Counting 2014 linebacker signees J.D. and Judah Davis (who will grayshirt, delaying their enrollment until next January), Clemson already has eight 2015 commitments. Swinney expects to sign a full 25-member class in 2015.

It’s talented, too: four-star wide receiver Shadell Bell of Decatur, Ga., and four-star athlete Van Smith of Charlotte are already aboard. The class is rated No. 9 nationally by 247Sports.

Hyatt’s commitment was preceded two days earlier by that of Orlando, Fla., quarterback Tucker Israel, a three-star prospect. Clemson expects to sign two quarterbacks in this cycle and has offers out to a number of talented prospects in Florida, Georgia and Texas. Among the most intriguing is a local quarterback, Piedmont, S.C.’s Kelly Bryant, a lanky, athletic dual-threat quarterback.

Bryant also has offers from Ole Miss, Florida, South Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and North Carolina, among others.

Brownell’s In No Danger 

Last week, CBSSports.com released a list of 16 head coaches who were reportedly on the “hot seat,” with a prediction made on their ultimate fate.

The biggest surprise? Brad Brownell’s name made the list, and while CBS “analyst” Matt Norlander said that Brownell’s job was likely safe, it was “too close to call.”

Norlander wrote that “some still wonder if making the NCAA Tournament is necessary.”

He never cited who “some” of those people are, but they certainly aren’t anyone who matters or anyone who knows anyone who matters at Clemson.

The job Brownell and his staff have done with a roster league writers pegged for 14th in the preseason poll – with little argument from anyone but Brownell and his players – has been nothing short of remarkable.

Following a come-from-behind 63-55 win at Georgia Tech, the Tigers were 17-9, 8-6 in ACC play, tied for sixth in the league standings. A team that many had consigned to Wednesday’s ACC Tournament purgatory is on the fringe of contention for a top-four finish and a double bye into the quarterfinals, and a mortal lock to avoid Wednesday play and get an advantageous tournament opener.

This is a coach who is on the hot seat? Come on, now.

Granted, Clemson regressed from a 22-12 record and NCAA Tournament trip (and the program’s first NCAA win since 1998) in Brownell’s debut, thanks in large part to the poorly constructed roster Oliver Purnell left behind when he bolted to DePaul.

And last season’s 13-18 record, which saw the Tigers lose 10 of their final 11 games (and look utterly lost) was a disaster. Coupled with the arrival of new athletic director Dan Radakovich, Brownell would’ve had reason for concern.

Now, however? Not so much. This group has shown that the departures of senior forwards Devin Booker and Milton Jennings (especially Jennings) was addition by subtraction.

Clemson has shown grit and heart. The Tech win was the Tigers’ fourth ACC road win of the season, only the fifth time in 61 ACC seasons that Clemson has won at least four league road games.

It also marked the fifth time this season that the Tigers overcame a halftime deficit to win, one short of the program record of six, set by the 1989-90 team.

Perhaps the most amazing part is how Brownell and Co. are getting it done: with a roster that features do-everything junior forward K.J. McDaniels – perhaps the ACC’s most athletic, exciting player – and a group of significantly less-talented players. It is MacGyver-esque – the basketball version of getting out of a locked vault loaded with plastic explosives with some paper clips, chewing gum and baling wire.

Brownell and his staff have proven themselves exceptional developers of talent, from McDaniels – who has taken a quantum leap from the raw athletic talent who arrived at Clemson two years ago – on down.

Sophomore center Landry Nnoko has been a presence down low, with his post game showing signs of working with assistant coach Mike Winiecki, a noted big-man developer. And junior point guard Rod Hall (a late-spring signee three years ago) is a steady-if-unspectacular point guard who is a solid team leader.

This group has persevered despite a lack of consistent guard production: sophomore Devin Coleman transferred in December, incoming freshman shooter Patrick Rooks was forced to redshirt because of a hip injury and returnees Jordan Roper and Damarcus Harrison have been up-and-down, at best.

Clemson wins with defense (no team in Division I allows fewer points per game) and overall guts.

This group likely needs to sweep its remaining regular-season games (including home visits from Maryland and Pittsburgh) and win a game or two in the ACC Tournament for legit NCAA consideration.

Still, any sort of improvement this season should be reason for celebration on Brownell’s behalf. The Tigers do not have a senior on the roster, and Clemson’s level of fan support and outdated facilties (Littlejohn Coliseum will be renovated from the rafters on down in two years) are all reasons for patience.

Taking this team to the NIT would be a significant accomplishment, given the miniscule preseason expectations.

If the Tigers make their second NCAA trip under Brownell, ACC coach-of-the-year honors would be a legit consideration.

Hot seat? Only if Brownell’s wife buys him a heating pad for his office.