by Novell Thomas, NCAA Basketball Producer
The next stop on the tour…Clemson University a.k.a. “Death Valley” (for those people who are up on their Clemson football). I didn’t know what to expect coming down to South Carolina. I’ve never been to these parts and I was really impressed with 1) the people and 2) the “greenery” (I’m from the Pacific Northwest so I notice these things and have to call it out). Enough of that, let’s get on with it. After watching the dismantling of a Terrapin squad, I have 5 reasons as to why Clemson could be the Toughest Place to Play in college basketball.
5. Southern Hospitality – I know you’re asking what does this have to do with being a tough place to play? Well, I had to call this out. Hands down, Clemson just set the bar for all hosts of the EA SPORTS Toughest Places to Play, tour.
A big shout-out to Mike at Clemson, he was “Money”. He gave us an excellent tour of Littlejohn Coliseum and of Memorial Stadium (Frank Howard Field). Not only that. As proud Alum, he was able to give us a historic rundown of Clemson athletics. Mike and his staff were welcoming and really made us feel at home. As for Maryland, I don’t believe they had the same feelings as us.
4. Tradition – Tradition and history was everywhere - on the walls, in the arena, in the concourse…retired and historic jerseys on display.
These are all things which opposing teams notice and on occasion, will play into their psyche. You can’t forget the Alma Mater song. If you don’t know what it is, it’s when everyone, young and old, crowd, students and players, stand side by side. The arms of one person are placed on the shoulders of their neighbors and everyone sways from left to right - all while singing the Alma Mater song. They performed this at the beginning of the game and at the end of the game. This demonstrated unity to me and is a great way to convey solitary within the crowd. In other words, you are not just taking on the basketball team, you are taking on the Clemson Tiger nation.
3. Game Presentation – from start to finish, I felt the game presentation was excellent. Clemson did a great job of pumping up the crowd and their players. To start, there was an animated movie starring the Tiger statue situated outside of the Littlejohn Coliseum.
The tiger came to life when the Maryland bus drove up and after a few seconds the Tiger had pounced on the bus and had clawed through the Terrapin logo. Of course the crowd went wild when they saw this. Then prior to the player intros, they showed a highlight clip of the team beating up on previous opponents. In my opinion, it was a great way to play into the psyche of the Terps (yet again). Additionally, they have a hype guy (okay, he calls himself the In-game Entertainer but I refer to him as the “Hype-guy”). He goes by the name of “J Dew” and he insists that he’s there for the team and getting the win is most important.
Add in not one, but two Tiger mascots and you can understand why the crowd get’s as loud as it does. Furthermore, the mascots had an EA SPORTS, Toughest Places to Play belt made up, which was worn by a few crowd members. There were so many different pieces working together, ultimately resulting in a hostile environment. Well done!
2. Crowd – 9700 (300 short of capacity) screaming fans who came to life in the second half, after a 30 something to 11 run. What I love is the fact that the student section is positioned behind both hoops and literally within 5 feet of any would be inbounders along the baseline. “You down with OPP”. I am now and I’m not referring to the track by Naughty by Nature. At Clemson, “OPP” stands for “Oliver Purnell’s Posse”. The in-house DJ did a great job of cuing in the Naughty by Nature track and having the crowd say, “yah you know me” at the right time. As for “OPP”, I was sitting right in front of them. They knew how to get under the skin of the Maryland players. They had some great comments - banter which is not appropriate for this blog or any blog for that matter.
1. Coach Purnell’s 1-2-1-1 full court defense is my number one reason for why Clemson, could be the toughest place to play…relentless and suffocating are two words that came to mind. The full court press proved to be too much for Maryland and the 1-2-1-1 pressure could be a contemporary reason why Clemson is called “Death Valley”. The pressure builds and builds and the next thing you know, it’s a twenty point game. As a basketball aficionado, what a treat to watch!
The negatives: My only negative was the crowd leaving with about 1 minute left in the game. However, I will cut them some slack since it was a blowout and it was a “school night”.
I’m very impressed with what Clemson brought to the table. The Tigers are definitely in the running for being a tough place to play. If you disagree with me, just ask Duke?
By the way Clemson, I’m on a mission to get you guys an authentic arena in NCAA Basketball 10. Look out for it.
Cast your vote for the Toughest Place to Play!