Clemson coaches know new building brings higher expectations
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) It has been a long time since any Clemson basketball team made the NCAA Tournament.
Head coaches Brad Brownell and Audra Smith are looking to change that as quickly as possible - and hope a $63.5 million renovation at Littlejohn Coliseum can help.
The men's team has not made NCAAs since 2011, Brownell's first season and the end of a run of four straight trips to the Big Dance. It's been even longer for Smith's women's team, which had not gotten a bid since 2002 - three coaches ago.
Brownell spent much of his previous six years meeting donors about the basketball project and building a base of support to fill up Liittlejohn's increased premium seating areas when it officially opens Nov. 11 as the Tigers face Georgia.
Brownell said he's built a respectable, competitive program and won't worry about those on the outside who think a shiny new building brings instant success.
''A better office, nicer TVs and couches, doesn't win you any games,'' said Brownell, starting his seventh Clemson season. ''Now, hopefully, it brings guys together in an environment where you can spent more time together, bond better and become closer, that togetherness helps you win games.''
Brownell and Smith each acknowledge what the facility can mean to their future programs in attracting top talent.
Smith said last week she had several prospects on campus whose eyes widened at the modern, expanded weight rooms and additional practice courts. Brownell is glad for the chance to show off a finished product to high school coaches, players and their families instead of planning sketches.
''It's the owner of the Taj Mahal,'' one supporter said to Brownell as they shook hands Wednesday.
Athletic director Dan Radakovich made the aging Littlejohn one of his first priorities when he took the job four years ago. He thought a modern facility would boost Clemson's basketball programs the way updating and expanding football facilities - an initiative begun more than a decade ago - has Clemson fighting for a second-straight trip to the College Football Playoff.
Brownell knows it will take time to see benefits, especially with the Tigers having to recruit against ACC powers like Duke, North Carolina and Louisville.
''You go to ACC media days there are probably 14 out of 15 teams saying they're going to the NCAAs,'' the coach said.
Clemson has gone 10-8 in the Atlantic Coast Conference in two of the past three years and last season had a three-game run like few others in program history, defeating ranked league opponents Louisville, Duke and Miami over a week's span.
''Just because we haven't made the NCAA Tournament, and we're all disappointed with that, look at ACC play over the last three years especially, we've been a pretty good team. I think we have a lot more respect in our league than sometimes we're given credit for.''
Smith has struggled in rebuilding Clemson's once powerful women's basketball team, going from 13 wins her first season to nine in 2014-15 and four last winter. It's a frustrating process she hopes is about to trend upward in a fresh building.
''All the amenities in place for our kids to be successful is something that will definitely help us as the season goes on,'' she said.