Nov. 9, 2011
A new era is beginning to take shape in year two under Head Coach Itoro Coleman as the roster begins to turn over. Last season, Clemson had four seniors in starting positions, all of whom played significant minutes and combined for 37.1 points per game and hit 160 of Clemson's school record 191 three-pointers.
Coleman returns just four scholarship players from last season, and adds to the fray a young mix of talent. Coleman's first recruiting haul is ranked 30th nationally by ESPN Hoopgurlz, and that 2011 freshman class is the foundation for what is to come.
Where the Lady Tigers have strength is in the front court, as seniors Shaniqua Pauldo and Lindsey Mason will patrol the paint. The two have combined to play in 164 games, and have recorded 996 points, 589 rebounds, and 147 blocked shots. They will form the core of a team looking to get footing in a tough ACC.
The personnel, strategy, mentality and coaching all play key factors in the navigation of a relentless schedule. "Potential" is the name of the game for this group, and will take a total team effort throughout the season to become a successful unit.
Clemson lost perhaps the most out of the guards and wings portion of the team from 2010-11. Kirstyn Wright (12.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.7 apg), Sthefany Thomas (11.8 ppg, 1,000 career pts.), and Bryelle Smith (99 assists, .391 3FG%) started a combined 79 games in Coleman's three guard spots last season, and all three were lost to graduation. Also gone is leading rebounder Jasmine Tate (7.0 rpg, 100 career blocks), who is playing professionally in Africa.
The leading returner at guard is sophomore Chancie Dunn, who played 398 minutes and started four contests will be looked upon this season for key minutes as a point guard. In a game against Florida State last season, she showed a glimpse of greatness, tallying 18 points, 8 assists, and seven rebounds. She'll need to bring consistency and take care of the ball for Clemson.
The rest of the guard crop is freshmen, in Chelsea Lindsay, Kelly Gramlich, and Nikki Dixon. Lindsay, from Durham, NC, is a tough pass-first point guard, who is a strong penetrator, and is a solid finisher around the basket when not making the kick-out pass. Gramlich, from Austin, TX, is known for her shooting ability. She will be able to spread the floor with her quick release and deep range offensively, while playing primarily at a shooting guard position. Dixon is an ultra-athletic wing player with a consistent outside shot and terrific ability to defend and create turnovers. Her play in transition will make a big impact right away, and she is an above-average defender.
The post play should be one of the strengths of the group, with the aforementioned Mason and Pauldo holding down the lane. Pauldo has come back with a renewed sense of commitment going into her senior season, and her outside game has continued to develop. Her ability to rebound will help set a tone in each game as she searches for consistency. Mason, also a senior, is one of the conference's premier shot-blockers, and has also displayed a reliable jumper from 18 feet and in. The team will rely upon her to anchor the defense, as well as an enforcer in the paint.
Another returner in the post is sophomore Quinyotta Pettaway, a long and athletic power forward, who is an excellent defender and aggressive rebounder. She will contribute off the bench in many circumstances, but with major minutes, especially as a spark on the low block.
The two new additions to the frontcourt are in freshmen Natiece Ford and Deja Hawkins. Ford was ranked as the 47th-best player and 6th-best post player in the nation according to ESPN Hoopgurlz. Ford is a tremendous finisher around the basket, and is athletic enough to hit the three, or take the ball strong to the rim. She has an excellent motor and rebounds with great frequency. Hawkins is an imposing physical presence who will be able to rebound and create some opportunities for teammates around the basket. She is a smart player with tremendous hands and feels around the basket, and will be a nice piece for Coleman to build around.
The foundation of Coleman's program is built on defense. Coleman uses various forms of presses and half-court strategies to stymie opponents. Expect the team to be a physical, hounding primarily man-to-man group that tries to get out in passing lanes and keep opposing offenses on their heels.
In the half court, look for plenty of man-to-man, aggressive denial defense. The Tigers want to create easy scoring opportunities and will use some of their length to do so. With Mason, Pauldo, Ford, Pettaway, and Hawkins as the back-line defenders, it give opponents a tough shot around the paint. The guards will continue to re-direct middle drives, and try to stifle penetration.
The women's game will also add in the defensive restricted area, the arc around the basket, which will limit how the help defender is able to play, making rotations that much more critical. When going into full-court scenarios, Clemson's jitterbug guards like Lindsay and Dunn can speed up opposing guards and create turnovers.
Offensively, the Tigers will look to create offense off their defense. They are able to hit the perimeter shot, but will strategically work inside-out with Pauldo, Ford, and Mason as the primary offensive interior options. Each possesses solid footwork and excellent touch around the basket. Mason and Pauldo are also excellent passers out of double-teams, and can find spot-up shooters like Gramlich, Dixon, and Lindsay.
Coleman is a firm believer in the culling of a strong mental toughness. This season has the running theme of a consistent effort and attention to detail. Using several drills to try and improve and develop toughness, the squad will rely on the senior leadership, with just two upperclassmen.
With young teams, it often takes an adjustment period to get used to the speed of the game, but with the limited about of returning experience, it will be crucial to see mentalities mature. The Tigers want to be opponents' toughest outs, and fight for every loose ball, take charges, and cause general defensive discomfort from anyone they see.
The continued effort to make their philosophies habits will be one of the goals of the coaching staff this season. As the team's mentality changes, so too will those of future Lady Tigers.
Coleman is obviously still at the head spot, and is in her second season as the program's head coach. The team made great strides defensively last year, and much of that is due to the new culture that Coleman has invoked.
Yolett McPhee-McCuin each return for their second season in Clemson. Thompson, who has loads of professional experience, will work primarily with the post players. Throughout her career, she has worked with several world-class bigs, including Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson.McPhee-McCuin will serve as a guards coach, along with Callahan, as well as resume her duties as recruiting coordinator. She spearheaded the recruiting haul of last season, and is equally excited about the 2012 class, which will sign on November 9.
Callahan is a high-energy assistant, fitting in philosophically with Coleman. She brings head coaching and assistant coaching experience, and she will make an immediate impact working with the guards.
Will Greenberg takes over as the Strength and Conditioning coach. The former Maryland baseball standout is already making his mark on the program, as the Tigers prepare for the fast-paced environment of ACC basketball. The Tigers also gained a dedicated Academic Advisor in Brooke Buffington, who works with members of the team in Vickery Hall and on the road. Brandon Miller is now in his second season as the team's video coordinator.
The staff will see a little bit of a shake-up later in the year, as Coleman expects her fourth child in March. In that scenario, Thompson will act as head coach, as she did last season when Coleman missed the first four games due to maternity leave.
The 2011-12 season marks the first year of a 16-game ACC schedule, moving up from 14 in previous seasons. With the two additional games comes the drop of two out of conference tilts. Trips to Providence and Oakland (Mich.) are the only trips of significant distance in the nonconference portion of the schedule. Clemson plays six games at home in nonconference, highlighted by visits from South Carolina, UAB, and Illinois in the Big Ten/ ACC Challenge.
The Tigers get into ACC play just after the calendars turn to 2012, playing host to Virginia Tech on Jan. 2. A stretch of four out of five games on the road will be one of the most difficult parts of the schedule. Clemson will go to Virginia Tech for a Friday night game, and then fly to Miami for a Sunday matinee. After playing host to Maryland, Clemson will go to Charlottesville, VA, and Boston College, rounding out the run. Clemson closes the season on Feb. 26 at Georgia Tech, before heading to the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC on March 1.
Clemson was picked to finish 11th by the league's coaches and primary media, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of members in and around the program. The future looks bright, and may come sooner than expected as an influx of talent and improved mentality makes its way into the roots of the program. The Lady Tigers feel more than ever that they have something to prove, and the 2011-12 season will be the first in a long line of new-look Lady Tiger teams. The new era, it seems, is now.