Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Clemson keeping Purnell is right move

It seems like just yesterday that I dined with a small group of writers and photographers from South Carolina at Gino’s East, a famous Chicago restaurant.

The deep dish, Chicago-style pizza was incredible. The server was incompetent. Not to mention belligerent. When we asked him to separate the check for us because we were on expense accounts, he tore the check into pieces and threw it on the table in front of us.

We were there to cover Clemson in the NCAA tournament. It was 10 years ago, and the Tigers haven’t been back since – until now.

Since then, I have moved three times, changed jobs twice, lost 30 pounds and been present for the birth of my two children. Clemson has changed coaches twice and renovated Littlejohn Coliseum, Memorial Stadium and Doug Kingsmore Stadium, where it plays baseball.

In 1998, the Tigers were making their third straight NCAA tournament appearance. It seemed that they would be a fixture in the tournament for years. Then Rick Barnes left for Texas.
You know the rest of the story.

That’s why coach Oliver Purnell’s contract extension was an important move for Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips this week. Purnell’s style and recruiting have the Tigers in position for another multi-year run in the NCAA tournament.

Though Clemson loses seniors James Mays, Cliff Hammonds and Sam Perry after this season, it has two excellent freshman guards in Demontez Stitt of Matthews and Terrence Oglesby. Charlotte’s K.C. Rivers should be one of the top scorers in the ACC as a senior next season, and sophomore Trevor Booker is a talented center who’s not so tall at 6-foot-7 that he should be looking for an early entry into the NBA draft.

Purnell has this train rolling. Sooner or later, an athletics director at a traditional basketball power is going to come courting him. Clemson saw how quickly a basketball program can crumble after Barnes left.

Though Purnell might leave eventually, he grew up dreaming of coaching in the ACC. Within reason, Clemson needs to do what it takes to keep him there.

– Ken Tysiac