The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Sunday, April 21, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Clemson looks to replace NBA talent KJ McDaniels

Brownell was under the impression that his leading scorer, forward K.J. McDaniels, would return to the program. During Brownell’s four-year tenure at Clemson, the Tigers have never returned their leading scorer from the previous season.

But McDaniels, who would have been a senior this season, had other plans.

The team leader in points, rebounds, steals and blocked shots decided to forgo his final collegiate season to play in the NBA, where he is currently a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, drafted in the second round with the 32nd overall pick in June’s draft.

“I mean, this is unbelievable — that we’re five years in a row going without the leading scorer coming back,” Brownell said.

“I remember saying this last meeting that we probably have him back finally, but we don’t.”

Brownell will now turn to two upperclassmen, senior point guard Rod Hall and junior center Landry Nnoko, to lead the Tigers to an NCAA Tournament berth that evaded them last year, and for the two years prior to that.

Clemson hasn’t made it to the NCAA Tournament since 2011. After missing the 2014 tournament, the Tigers played in the National Invitation Tournament and advanced three rounds before falling in the semifinal to Southern Methodist.

This season, Nnoko brings two years of collegiate experience, but has only played organized basketball for five years.

He picked up the game in high school after he moved to Orlando from Cameroon.

“First time watching it, I just fell in love,” Nnoko said.

“My neighbor had a goal in his driveway, and I just started shooting with him and then he asked me if I wanted to start playing with his club. I was like, ‘You know, why not?’”

Coming to Clemson, Brownell said Nnoko’s biggest problem wasn’t his skill, but his confidence.

“He’s starting to feel good about himself,” Brownell said.

“And as he becomes more confident and a better player he’ll get there, I just hope it’s sometime this year.”

But as he enters his junior season, Nnoko feels it is his time to shine.

“I definitely have to step up,” Nnoko said.

“There’s three leaders on this team now — me, Rod and Damarcus (Harrison). We have to implant our defensive mindset into all the young players.”

Nnoko and Hall said they want this Clemson team to be known for its defensive intensity — just like last year.

The Tigers took down Duke in 2013-14 behind a stifling effort from their defense — limiting the No. 1 scoring offense in the ACC to 59 points.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

“Defense has always been our key,” Hall said.

“The defense is going to take care of our offense.”

Hall said he knows that it will be tougher without McDaniels’ play on both ends of the floor, but he is confident in the new team.

“Yeah we’re going to miss K.J.,” he said. “But at the end of the day we’re a different team and we got better over the year.”

sports@dailytarheel.com