In case you hadn't noticed, coach Rick Barnes has been doing
more at Clemson than just getting into hissing matches with Dean
Smith. What he has done, in fact, is assemble a young team
that's so deep, talented and versatile that it could be more
than just a contender in the ACC. Indeed, with a few breaks the
Tigers could be the sort of sleeper team that slips into the
Final Four. "Our guys have fought that losing tradition at
Clemson," Barnes says. "Our attitude is, 'We're gonna start
something new.' We've had great, great chemistry."
The Tigers have no All-Americas, but they do have nine players
with starting experience returning. In Barnes's first two
seasons, his club was so beset by injuries that he was forced to
play youngsters before they were ready. But now, finally,
everyone is more or less healthy. "Depth and versatility are our
strengths," Barnes says.
The quintessential Barnes player is Greg Buckner, a junior
swingman from Hopkinsville, Ky., who has started all 57 games of
the Barnes era. Spurned by Kentucky and Louisville, the major
programs in his home state, Buckner has developed into at least
an all-league candidate. In an 80-76 win over N.C. State last
Feb. 28, he scored 30 points, the most by a Tiger against an ACC
foe in five years.
Clemson's four other returning starters are sophomores: Terrell
McIntyre, who led last year's team in assists and steals; Tony
Christie, who was named most improved player; Andrius Jurkunas,
who set a Tigers freshman record for three-point goals and led
the team in blocks; and Tom Wideman, who started all 29 games,
which made him the first Clemson freshman to do so since Tree
Rollins in 1973-74.
That nucleus will be supplemented by 6-foot senior Bill Harder,
6'2" senior Merl Code, 6'8" sophomore Harold Jamison, 6'7"
sophomore Iker Iturbe and 6'6" sophomore LeDarion Jones. Barnes
is also high on 6'9" Woni Mohamed and 6'6" Vincent Whitt, a pair
of true freshmen.
So much talent, so few minutes. Suddenly Barnes is
afflicted--blessed?--with the same problems that have for years
belonged to his nemesis, Smith, with whom he has had a stormy
relationship since the two engaged in a heated shouting match
after a disputed foul call at the '95 ACC tournament. Harder and
Code, who began last season as the starting guard tandem, both
had physical ailments that limited their play. Jamison, despite
only six starts, ranked first on the team in offensive rebounds
and second in blocks. Iturbe, the starting center two years ago,
returns after missing all of 1995-96 with a blood clot in his
Because Clemson is in a breakthrough position, Barnes has
enhanced the Tigers' nonconference schedule, beginning with an
opening game against NCAA champion Kentucky. "We've tried to
upgrade our recruiting and upgrade our schedule," Barnes says.
"We just want to be the best we can be."
Which, of course, is something that Dean Smith can surely
understand--and even admire.
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Rick Barnes
Career record: 161-110 (nine seasons)
Record at Clemson: 33-24 (two seasons)
1995-96 record: 18-11 (final ranking: none)
ACC record: 7-9 (sixth)
PG *Terrell McIntyre, 5'9", Soph.
Named to All-ACC freshman team
SG *Greg Buckner, 6'4", Jr.
Team's top scorer in '95-96, with 13.1 ppg
SF *Tony Christie, 6'7", Soph.
Most athletic player on the Tigers
PF *Andrius Jurkunas, 6'9", Soph.
Shot three's (42.1%) better than two's (41.8%)
C *Tom Wideman, 6'10", Soph.
Started all 29 games as a freshman
Nov. 15 vs. Kentucky
Last regular-season win over UK was in 1931
Dec. 17 at South Carolina
Tigers are only ACC team with losing record vs. SC
Jan. 7 vs. Duke
Clemson shot 29.5% from the field in last meeting
Jan. 23 vs. Wake Forest
Tim Duncan had 13.0 rpg vs. Tigers last season
Feb. 26 vs. North Carolina
Tigers are 3-15 against Tar Heels in the '90s
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Buckner has risen to top Tiger status. [Greg Buckner in game]