Brad Brownell, Clemson at ACC Operation Basketball
Q. Coach, just what you can say about the evolution of Clemson basketball during your time there and just what you’ve seen over the years and then coming off of back-to-back at least 21 seas ones moving forward.
BRAD BROWNELL: Yeah, I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. Back in the day when I first got there, we didn’t have the kind of facility we have now. I think that has really helped us, not only in recruiting, but just in terms of maybe enthusiasm for basketball.
Been blessed to coach a lot of really good players through my nine seasons at Clemson. I feel like our program has made a little bit of a turn, three straight postseasons and back-to-back 20-win seasons.
Look forward to coaching this group this year. It’s a little bit of a different team, seven new players, but coming off of World University Games gold medal, something we’re really proud of and an experience that was really good for our players.
Q. Coach, can you expand on the thought of winning gold? What does that mean? How deep does that meaning go?
BRAD BROWNELL: Yeah, I think very few people have an opportunity to represent their country, so amazing honor, and somewhat of a responsibility to make sure that you’re competing at a high level. I thought it was extremely rewarding for our guys. Started when we went to the opening ceremonies. It really kind of hit home with 65,000 people cheering you on.
The game started shortly thereafter. We got some success, won some close games, and really built a lot of positive momentum. Just an incredible experience, certainly a lifetime memory, and one I’m sure everyone in our program will never forget.
Q. Going off of that, this is for each of you, the players. Just what you can say about your trip to Italy and representing the United States, winning a gold medal. A lot of pieces to that. So just kind of how the trip was, what you thought of Italy, and then at the same time to represent America and bring home the gold.
JOHN NEWMAN III: I think the experience in Italy was a great experience. Just seeing new scenery. I mean, you see a lot of Italy on TV shows and in movies and stuff like that, but to go there and experience it firsthand was definitely a really special experience for me because I like to be — I’m heavy into those like crime and mob movies and stuff like that. So they’re always over there. (Laughter).
So to see a little bit of that and kind of see where all that stuff kind of branches from, it was really special to me.
Back to basketball, it was really special. It was just like Coach said, you got there, opening ceremonies, 60,000 people, all these people cheering for you, and even people that’s from their native country cheering for us. It just shows how much of a responsibility we had to protect the three letters on our chest. So I think that was very special.
Also, we were able to get momentum each game. It was like each game we kept getting more and more momentum. For play, we had some tough games. I think we had only one blowout win. We probably had one blowout win the whole time we were there. Everything else were nail-biters. But I wouldn’t have wanted to have it any other way because those nail-biters are what gave us momentum to keep going and give giving us hope.
So I think that’s some momentum from there. We won, so that’s obviously exciting, and I think that momentum is something that’s going to help carry us this season and stuff like that.
AAMIR SIMMS: To piggy-back off of John, it was kind of difference for me a little bit because I had the experience of going to Spain my freshman summer, and I was kind of curious to see how it would be different from that experience, being just like a playful area and just kind of had a lot of freedom, so just to learn about the country and whatnot.
But going to Italy, it was more of a business trip, as a lot of people like to say, and I think we were all, quote, on board, and we all bought into Coach Brownell’s philosophies and what he wanted us to produce for our country and our school, more importantly.
It was just a great experience, something that I’ll never forget. Being there, we kind of came together more as a team. It kind of forced us to grow and mature a little bit more than we have to because you’re kind of put in an extreme situation where you’re away from home and you’re just with your teammates and coaches and the support staff we obviously had out there.
It was just a great learning experience, like John said, from watching movies and whatnot to actually seeing live places that you’ve seen growing up. It was just like a really fun thing for us. And also, with like the nail-biters, it was very scary to be in that situation for the first time really because you’re going against grown men really. To be able to pull it out, it just showed our program, what we like to produce to the world with our Clemson grit and always like fighting and hammering at the nail and making sure that we’re getting the job done whether it’s ugly or pretty win, and that’s just something we’ll never forget going forward in our lives.
Q. Coach Brownell, with so many new players and key roles this summer, how surprised were you that players gelled so quickly?
BRAD BROWNELL: It was surprising for sure. We had seven new players join our program and all at different times, whether it was transfers coming in late. We had a couple guys come in about two weeks before we left, high school guys. A couple of them got there about a month to five weeks ahead.
I think it speaks to the character of our players that these guys, all in different points in their career because we have two grad transfers, three freshmen, and two regular transfers that it points to the character of our team and that these guys were all able to put aside egos and really concentrate on one goal.
I was really pleased that our new guys came in with a humble attitude, serving attitude, but our older guys also were remarkable in the way that they led and really helped teach the young guys what we’re trying to accomplish and how we do things in our program.
Certainly, the experience was helpful in a lot of ways, but it was probably — the result was probably something that was a little bit unexpected, to be honest with you.
Q. John, what did you learn about yourself, and what did you learn about the league in your first year through?
JOHN NEWMAN III: Really what I learned about myself is how — I guess how I kind of like fit into our program, I guess. Coach Brownell is really big on the grit and growth thing. I went through — I had ups and downs throughout my season, times where I felt like, oh, you know what I’m saying, like I’m at my peak — well, not at my peak, but I’m making a rise, but then I had some games where I didn’t feel like I was at my best. But I really just kept at it.
I think my faith really had a big part to play in it. I was just trusting God and just trusting my process because, to get to where I am right now, it hasn’t been the easiest, but I’ve always just stuck with it.
I think that’s kind of why Coach Brownell gets guys like me in his program, guys like me that realize, like, the path to go is not always going to be pretty. It’s going to be tough, but if you just keep grinding and being gritty and really buy into that growth aspect of things, that you can accomplish great things.
And then what I learned about the league was you’ve just got to bring it every single night, and I’m still learning. Even in practice sometimes, I have my days where I’m not necessarily all the way engaged and I don’t have my best practices, but I think that’s just me.
I just have to learn to — I’m just getting used to having to bring it every time. My role last year, I didn’t have as big of a role, and then even going back farther, when I was in high school, you don’t necessarily have to bring it every night because everyone’s not good. But in this league, everyone’s that good, everyone’s the best player on their high school team. So you’re playing against those teams night in and night out, and you can get 30 on your head. So you’ve just got to be ready at all times.
Q. Aamir, same type of question. You’ve now been through the cycle twice. As a junior, what have you learned, and what are you teaching some of the younger guys like John, who is still, as he admitted, still kind of young?
AAMIR SIMMS: Since I’ve been here, I’m going into my third year, I have the luxury actually to sit behind Donte Grantham, which I’m sure you guys are familiar with, and learn from him and his leadership and how he approached certain things and how he kind of handled situations. Even with his injury, how he was still a very vocal leader on the sidelines and on the court and in practices. So with me, I’ve taken a part of that into my process of how to be towards these guys.
I struggled with it at first early on in the summer, and I see now, as an older player, how easily you can get frustrated watching a younger guy kind of mess up continuously and almost effortlessly. So it’s like something I’ve learned since I’ve been here is to have composure and be poised in certain situation, and you have to approach different situations differently with each kind of guy on the team, especially with young guys, because we have a really good mix of young to old. We have a nice little freshman class, our sophomore class, our junior class, and our graduating seniors.
So for me, it’s been something of a learning experience to approach the ways differently and how to lead our guys in a different way without being negative or getting on guys too hard, but I’ve learned also that every day is different, every practice is different, and every day is an opportunity to grow. So I try to remember that going into each practice, each film session, and each game that we have. It’s just been a trip for me as well, a blessing for me to have the opportunity and the platform to help my teammates grow as well as myself in the process.
Q. Coach, we’re on a role. What have you learned now nine seasons through, heading into your tenth?
BRAD BROWNELL: Oh, a lot. First of all, it’s a privilege to coach in this league and to have the opportunity to coach at Clemson every day, something that I cherish and greatly appreciate.
I think, in order to survive, the culture of your program has to be solid. You have to have a good foundation. As you get a little bit older, you realize it’s even more than just basketball for certain. If you’re educating and supporting the young people in your program the right way and giving them proper guidance in all areas, that the basketball part will be better.
I think that’s something that you develop and grow as you’re in the league a little bit.