To those who know him—and especially to those who have coached against him—it should come as no surprise that one of coach Rick Barnes's favorite movie characters is Hannibal Lecter, the psychotic genius played by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. "He had that look of an assassin in his eye," Barnes says. "The thing I remember most is when he talked the guy in the next cell into swallowing his tongue. That's a motivator."
You can almost picture Barnes standing in front of his mirror, practicing his steely glare and then checking it against a freeze-framed videotape of Lecter. After all, Barnes is the guy who in three years has somehow brought an assassin's look to, of all places, Clemson. This is a program so unaccustomed to success that banners hang in Littlejohn Coliseum commemorating postseason NIT appearances.
"We told our players from day one that we should expect to be as good as anyone in the ACC," Barnes says. If that tone wasn't established in practice, Barnes's two highly publicized shouting matches with North Carolina coach Dean Smith—the first during the 1995 ACC tournament, the second in the '95-96 regular season—left no doubt that he was serious.
Feistiness is crucial because the Tigers aren't an imposing bunch. There's no surefire first-round NBA pick on the roster, but four starters are back from a team that willed its way to a 23-10 record, a berth in the Sweet 16 and a ranking at one point in the season of No. 2, the highest in Clem-son's history.
Chief among the returnees are the Tigers' top two players—6' 4" senior forward Greg Buckner, whose 15.6 scoring average was seventh best in the ACC, and 5' 9" junior point guard Terrell McIntyre, who, like Buckner, was a second-team All-ACC selection. McIntyre personifies the Clemson program: an overlooked squirt who worked like a maniac to make himself into a quality college player.
Even if 6-foot junior Johnny Miller, a transfer from Temple who once made eight three-pointers in an NCAA tournament game, provides a lift from the perimeter, the Tigers probably won't be a great shooting team. But they should overcome that with inside muscle: 6' 8", 245-pound Harold Jamison and 6' 10", 240-pound Tom Wideman, both juniors, will be joined by 6'9", 235-pound sophomore Mohamed Woni and 7-foot, 235-pound freshman Adam Allenspach.
Buckner did little to diminish expectations when, during Clemson's media day, he said, "I'll be surprised if we don't win the national championship." A display of bravado like that might infuriate a lot of coaches, but not Barnes. "That's what Buck wants, that's what his goal is," says Barnes. "You have to let the players be themselves." Barnes has worked to make his players in his own image. The last thing he wants them to do now is swallow their tongues.