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Andy Katz | Correspondent | July 31, 2018

Clemson's Brownell talks ACC grind, hopes of NCAAT return

Kansas defeats Clemson, 80-76

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables' contract extension got the headline in the Post and Courier in South Carolina.

Buried deep in the story was the extension given to Clemson men’s basketball coach Brad Brownell. But let’s not fool ourselves here. Sure, football is king at Clemson, but the significance of Brownell getting a six-year deal after the Sweet 16 berth last March is program changing for Clemson.

Brownell discussed the commitment to him by athletic director Dan Radakovich and president Jim Clements on the podcast March Madness 365.

Clemson couldn’t afford to just recycle another coach, move on and hope to find consistency. They had the right fit in Brownell, who had been close multiple times of breaking through but didn’t for various reasons. That’s why the Sweet 16 berth, 25-10 record, 11-7 third-place ACC-tying finish last season was so monumental. Clemson hadn’t been in the NCAA tournament since Brownell’s first season in 2011. The six-year gap in between could easily cause stress, even with two above .500 ACC seasons in 2014 and 2016.

Radakovich wasn’t the athletic director who hired Brownell, but “he has been extremely supportive.’’ The two worked together during the planning and renovating of Littlejohn Coliseum that took the Tigers to Greenville, S.C., for one season.

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“We were a game or two short of making the NCAA tournament,’’ said Brownell, “and he gave me the extra time and I appreciate that. There was a lot of excitement last season within the program that we were going to have a good season and we certainly did. A lot of administrators don’t want to be patient, but I’m grateful to Dan and our president Jim Clements that they gave us more time.’’

The Tigers were able to get into the NCAA tournament and advance to the Sweet 16 despite losing senior forward Donte Grantham to a torn ACL 19 games into the season. He was the third-leading scorer. Gabe DeVoe, another graduate, was a vocal leader. And now that those two are gone, the onus falls on returnees Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas, as well as Aamir Simms and David Skara, who both made major contributions in Grantham’s absence.

Brownell said the Tigers will need Reed and Mitchell to be more vocal  if they want to duplicate last season’s run. But the feeling around the program is that the Tigers aren’t sliding back. They should be in the mix in the ACC going forward.

“Sometimes the hardest thing is just getting to the tournament,’’ said Brownell. “A lot of it is about matchups. But I do think the hardest part is getting through the grind (of the ACC) and surviving it. We feel good about our team with good players coming back.’’

And remember, two ACC teams that finished eighth (Florida State) and 10th (Syracuse) reached the Sweet 16 last season.

Meanwhile, Butler coach LaVall Jordan, entering his second season as head coach of his alma mater also joined the podcast. He discussed the Bulldogs and their chances to reach the NCAA tournament again, but also about how he defines the Butler Way and when he knew the Bulldogs could be elite.

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That came in 2000 when Butler lost to eventual national runner-up Florida in the first round. The Gators won on a buzzer-beater by Mike Miller.

“That was the springboard,’’ said Jordan, who was a player on that Butler team. “That was validation since we were right there with the team that played for the national title. Why can’t we be the program that can do that?’’

Butler did, playing for the title under Brad Stevens in 2010 and 2011.

“There was a healthy belief that we could, regardless of league at the time,’’ said Jordan. “We knew we could play with anybody. And now we’re in a conference like the Big East where we get tested every night. If you can do it in this conference then once you get to the NCAA tournament you’ve got a chance.’’

Jordan defines the Butler Way as believing in something greater than yourself.

The buy-in is the Butler Way. Jordan also recognizes there are offensive and defensive principles. But it’s the buy-in that sticks with you when you come to Butler.

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