COVID uncertainty has Tigers' attention with season starting soon

by - Staff Writer -
Clemson's opener is Nov. 25 versus Mississippi State in Melbourne, Florida.
Clemson's opener is Nov. 25 versus Mississippi State in Melbourne, Florida.

The countdown clock is drawing near to a college basketball season sure to be unlike any other -- and nobody knows that more than Clemson’s Brad Brownell.

A postponement related to COVID-19 has already come into play in the ACC with Miami basketball and Brownell has watched this week as football conferences like the SEC have seen over half of their weekend’s games wiped out.

Clemson’s Nov. 25 game versus Mississippi State in Melbourne, Florida (8:30 p.m.) now sits in that zone where teams have to closely monitor roster numbers related to COVID-19 tests.

"Uncertainty is the first thing because of COVID," Brownell said of things on his mind currently in a Thursday Zoom call. "This is a year where there's going to be challenges that pop up that you're just going to have to deal with that are going to make it hard...Our guys have been unbelievable in terms of the sacrifices they've made so far. Our guys are not really doing much other than doing their schoolwork and coming to the gym and practicing. Because of that, we've been fortunate that we haven't had much COVID on our team. So we've been able to have some consistency with practices, which I think is really important. That's going to be one of the big challenges going forward with teams that have some shutdowns or have things that happen during the season.

“That's what really scares me is that we've had so little COVID now -- obviously I'm nervous that are we going to make it four or five months without it? Now when you have it, you're missing games. That part of it scares me. I know our guys won't be reckless or anything in terms of their behavior but obviously, you can catch COVID in a variety of ways that don't involve being reckless. That part scares me."

All-ACC Clemson forward Aamir Simms was among three basketball players to test positive for COVID over the summer, only seeing mild symptoms. He said Thursday that he felt the team had done a good job of taking precautions but now they are reaching a time where they can only do so much.

“if one gets it -- we all do because we're around each other all the time. Sweating around each other and all that, whether it's in the weight room or on the court,” Simms said. “There's not really a plan in place (that can help), but usually within that household, everyone has to sit out, and everyone just has to get tested on a regular basis to make sure it didn't get past anyone.”

Both Brownell and Simms said that they had faith that a season could be accomplished and Brownell’s confidence was bolstered by how college football has been able to manage games this year.

The summer COVID positives did serve as a lesson for the Tigers, but while confident in how his team is handling their business, he knows they can’t just be cooped-up in their apartments and only go to the gym -- he just hopes they can continue to stay on the right of side things as they have in recent months with COVID.

What’s encouraged him is seeing his players back to doing what they love.

“I think the mental health of the kids at this time is as much of an issue for us as coaches as the physical health,” he said. “That's one of the things when we were all waiting to see and, 'Hey, is it safe to play?' These kids need it. These kids need to play. They need the gym. They need access. They need things to do. That's one thing that's been really, really good for our players and watching our players over the summer is that you got to see them come back after being gone from each other for a few months -- you could see how much guys missed each other and how much I missed them. Being around them and our staff -- these guys keep us young and excited and you could see it amongst the players, what basketball means.

“Just coming in and those guys playing pickup games or shoot by themselves -- whatever -- I think there's a mental approach we have to have as a coach through all this to keep your guys in a good place. We're really talking about that and encouraging our guys to make good decisions, but at the same time, not expecting them to live under a rock.”

Clemson is scheduled to host its first reduced-capacity home game (1,860 fans) on Dec. 2 against S.C. State.

"We're just going to have to wait-and-see," Brownell said on COVID-related issues. "I'm just trying to keep a positive attitude. I'm really excited for the season. Love our guys and how hard they're working and the sacrifices they're making and we're going to hope for good things and do the best we can."

Injury notes

* Brownell said that sophomore guard Chase Hunter suffered a broken finger that held him out for 4-5 weeks over the offseason, and he returned to practice on Monday. Brownell believes he will be ready to play in Florida, but with Hunter, after sitting out with a foot injury last year too, they will have to be patient on his progress as a player.

* Junior guard John Newman III has missed some time as well this offseason with a sore knee after a sprain. Brownell said that Newman started back in practice a week or week-and-a-half ago and he’s out of a brace now. He had an offseason knee surgery after an injury sustained in the Miami game to close the season in the ACC Tournament.

* Senior forward Jonathan Baehre has practiced more in the last month in dealing with another knee-related issue (cyst in back of his knee that needs draining from time-to-time). Baehre, a UNC-Asheville transfer, has had two ACL injuries in his career and is seeking his first full season with the Tigers.

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