April 4, 2006
CLEMSON -- When Oliver Purnell took over the dormant Clemson basketball program three years ago, the odds of making it a viable force were stacked against him. He had a simple formula to follow, but accomplishing it was something entirely different.
Purnell understood that the only way to achieve success was to acquire on the recruiting trail the sort of players who in the past typically had spurned the Tigers. He had to convince players to come to Clemson rather than choosing the likes of Georgia Tech, Maryland, Wake Forest or N.C. State.
For the coach's first three years, the plan looked to be right on track, as the team increased its number of conference wins by two each year. But now, that diagram has taken a major hit, as recruiting coordinator Kevin Nickelberry left in late March to become the new head coach at Hampton.
When Purnell first arrived at Clemson, one of his first moves was enticing Nickelberry to leave his position at Charlotte. Nickelberry had done a stellar recruiting job with the 49ers under Bobby Lutz, who guided the team to NCAA Tournament berths and wins.
Nickelberry agreed and came to Tiger Town with the goal of working more of his recruiting magic. It didn't take long for the results to start showing up. By the time he left, eight top-100 players had either signed and played or committed to play for Clemson, which finished a disappointing 7-9 in conference play this season.
At this point, there's no telling how much of a hit the Tigers took with Nickelberry's departure. If Purnell can't find someone with the same type of connections and persuasiveness, all of the previous building blocks may have been for naught.
Nickelberry had been interested in becoming a head coach for some time, but he had limited his inquiries to jobs that either offered a personal connection or were fairly high on the Division I ladder. He ultimately found his match at Hampton, not far from his alma mater, Virginia Wesleyan, which is located in nearby Norfolk, Va.
BASEBALL: OFFENSE LOOKS OFFENSIVE
Clemson started its baseball season ranked No. 1 in the country. With all eight defensive starters returning from last year's team, which came within one game of making the College World Series, it was easy to understand why.
But thus far this season, those same experienced players have let the team down by not producing at the plate.
Entering its weekend series at Miami, which opened the team's April schedule, Clemson ranked near the bottom of the ACC in home runs (21) and runs scored (142). To drive home the point, in their first 25 games, the Tigers scored five runs or fewer 11 times.
Yes, it's still early, and that's what Clemson coach Jack Leggett keeps saying. However, if those bats don't pick up and actually help out the pitching staff, a postseason trip to Omaha will be out of the question.
Making matters even worse for the Tigers is the fact that their road play has been atrocious. After winning their first road game of the season, they dropped their last five before heading to Miami. After playing poorly in a loss at rival South Carolina, Clemson went to Virginia and got swept.
That's not the quality and sign of a team deserving of a trip to the CWS.
WESTZONE PROJECT LACKING FUNDS
The good news for the Clemson athletic department is that the massive $56 million WestZone Project at Memorial Stadium is more than halfway done. The bad news is that the university has only half the money required to pay for it.
The WestZone Project is an undertaking that has enclosed the end of the football stadium opposite the famous hill with luxury suites, new locker rooms and other amenities. The school is still some $27 million short of being able to pay for it.
To help offset some of the financial shortcomings, season-ticket holders now are required to "donate" at least $26 toward the project. That's on top of the price of the tickets and the minimum payment to IPTAY.
To date, the WestZone Project hasn't gone anywhere near as originally planned.
University officials anticipated getting a lot more bang for their buck when it was initially sketched. But before the first piece of dirt was moved, the project already was at least $8 million over what was budgeted.
The first of the two phases was projected to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million. It was to include club seats, a wide-format, state-of-the-art video screen, a glass oculus and game-day operations. Also, a recruiting room, dressing rooms for both teams, an equipment room and other facilities were to be included.
The second phase was to focus on finishing out the football aspect of it, such as offices. Also included will be a Champions Walk and a museum. However, a lot of that has either been taken away or modified because of the budget crisis.
When football coach Tommy Bowden hits the IPTAY circuit this spring and summer, his primary point of emphasis will be the current status of Memorial Stadium.
"The biggest thing is, we've got to finish our WestZone Project," he said. "I think they're looking for money, about $27 million. That's going to be my message. It's half-done."
Unless a lot of money is raised quickly, Clemson fans can expect another increase in season-ticket prices. And this time, it could be a very substantial one.