Key Losses: F Olu Babalola (6.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg), F/C Sharrod Ford (14.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg), G/F Cheyenne Moore (6.6 ppg)
Postseason:NIT: Lost to Texas A&M 82–74 in the first round
Raleigh, NC/Redshirt 2004-05
Charlotte, NC/Oak Hill (VA) Academy
Rivers and Powell highlight a recruiting class that figures to add more talent and athleticism to a program that lacked it before Oliver Purnell arrived. Rivers struggled last season to recover from a dislocated ankle, but reports over the summer indicated that he resembled his old self. Powell should push James Mays for playing time at power forward, or he could see time at small forward. Sykes figures to be a backup at both center and power forward. Mathis is excellent at dribble penetration.
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A year after his team played with the equivalent of a beginner's permit, Oliver Purnell is granting Clemson full driving privileges this season.
With four freshmen who playing significant minutes, Purnell was reluctant to overload his team during his second year. But the young guys played wise beyond their years while helping the Tigers taste some success, and now Purnell is ready to give them more responsibility.
"We have carryover," Purnell says. "We're not starting from the beginning. They should know certain things on the first day of practice, so we should be able to put in more and do more and be able to make more adjustments."
Despite the loss of two starters -- third-team All-ACC center Sharrod Ford and forward Olu Babalola -- Purnell deems the NCAA Tournament a realistic goal this season. Last year's newcomers played with a fearless, undaunted quality Purnell likes, and more talented additions this year figure to give Clemson a better chance of competing in the ACC.
Losing Ford will be a major issue because Clemson doesn't have anyone on its roster capable of being as dynamic or dependable. Ford consistently drew double-teams but still managed to score 16.3 points per game in conference play.
This season, the pressure is on senior Akin Akingbala to become a solid player. Plagued by problems with footwork and stamina, Akingbala seldom looks comfortable on the floor -- particularly against bigger, better players.
Akingbala spent part of the spring and summer working out in Atlanta with players who were preparing for the NBA Draft, and Purnell is hoping the experience infused him with some toughness and initiative.
Sophomore James Mays, who excels at running the floor and crashing the boards, is penciled in at power forward after an encouraging freshman season. Behind him will be incoming freshmen Julius Powell and Raymond Sykes.
Senior center Steve Allen, who has struggled with injuries, will also battle for playing time.
After spending two seasons running his offense through Ford, Purnell is switching to a more guard-oriented approach. It's a sound move given the abundance of backcourt talent that will be on his roster this season.
One of the key players is someone who has yet to see a minute of playing time with the Tigers. Point guard Troy Mathis was expected to challenge for a starting spot last year as a freshman, but he was suspended for the season after an on-campus brawl.
Mathis underwent knee surgery in the spring to remove cartilage, but the process was more complicated than expected and it is uncertain when he will be fully recovered. If Mathis' recovery is prolonged, Purnell could be forced to move Cliff Hammonds to point guard.
Hammonds is more suited for shooting guard, but Mathis' absence last season left him sharing point guard duties with Vernon Hamilton. A solid defender, Hamilton can be a liability because of his inability to navigate against pressure defenses and his propensity for turnovers.
The Tigers' coaching staff is excited about incoming freshman K.C. Rivers, who appears mostly recovered from a devastating ankle injury suffered in September 2004. The 6-foot-5 Rivers could play small forward, shooting guard or point guard.
Purnell is expecting more consistency from senior shooting guard Shawan Robinson, who is effective from 3-point range when he gets open shots. Swingman Cheyenne Moore, who started 17 games as a freshman and averaged 19.4 minutes per game, left the program in mid-August and will transfer to another school.
After averaging just 71.7 points per game last season, Clemson should be more productive -- and more exciting -- in Purnell's third season. The Tigers are still young, but their athleticism and experience will allow for more running and pressing.
With so many ACC teams hit hard by graduation and early departures to the NBA, Clemson has to feel confident about improving on last season's 5-11 conference record and making another appearance in the postseason.