With its best player back, and with his little brother a welcome addition to the team, Clemson has high expectations for 2009-10.
The 24th-ranked Tigers open their season Friday night at Littlejohn Coliseum, where they’ll face a Presbyterian team that’s expecting some growing pains during its transition to Division I.
Despite opening with 16 consecutive wins last season - one victory shy of the program record - Clemson finished 23-9 following a 62-59 loss to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers dropped five of their final six games in 2008-09, but with senior forward Trevor Booker returning, Clemson has its sights set on a fourth straight 20-win season and its first NCAA tournament victory since a 1997 run to the regional semifinals.
A preseason All-ACC selection, Booker last season became the first player since Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan in 1996-97 to lead the conference in both rebounding (9.7) and field goal percentage (57.1).
Booker, who also averaged a team-high 15.3 points and was second in the ACC with 2.0 blocks per game, is the conference’s active leader with 792 rebounds and 204 blocked shots.
After contemplating a move to the NBA and helping Team USA win bronze at last summer’s World University Games, Booker will play his final collegiate season as a teammate of his brother Devin, a 6-foot-8 freshman.
“He’s definitely going to take the load off of me,” Trevor Booker said.
The Tigers’ last brother combination was Horace and Harvey Grant in 1984-85.
Devin Booker was one of a number of talented freshman brought in by Clemson coach Oliver Purnell, including McDonald’s All-American forward Milton Jennings, guard Donte Hill and Noel Johnson, who signed after getting out of his letter of intent with USC.
Junior Demontez Stitt begins his third season as the Tigers’ starting point guard after averaging 8.7 points and 3.8 assists in 2008-09.
After the loss of Terrence Oglesby, who decided to forego his final two seasons at Clemson to become a pro in Europe, sophomore guard Tanner Smith will look to fill a starting role. He averaged 3.6 points off the bench last season.
Junior Jerai Grant and senior David Potter will both get their first chance to start in the Tigers’ frontcourt. The duo averaged a combined 9.6 points and 5.4 boards in 2008-09.
While Clemson looks to improve its winning percentage for the sixth straight season, Presbyterian could struggle to match last season’s 12-17 mark.
Because the Blue Hose are in the third year of their transition to Division I, coach Gregg Nibert decided to redshirt juniors Al’Lonzo Coleman, Josh Johnson and Pierre Miller, so that they will still be with the program when it becomes postseason eligible in 2011-12.
That trio accounted for 54.7 percent of the team’s scoring last season.
“We lost two senior starters from a year ago in Bryan Bostic and Travis Sligh,” Nibert told the school’s official Web site. “Now we have three players redshirting. Right now, we have just three that have had any college experience. It may be the most inexperienced team in Division I and the most inexperienced team I’ve ever had.”
Sophomore guard Chase Holmes is the Blue Hose’s top returning scorer from last season (7.8). He scored four points off the bench in a 79-58 loss at Clemson last Nov. 28.
Trevor Booker had 25 points and nine rebounds and Grant added 11 points as the Tigers won their fifth straight against Presbyterian.
Clemson, which leads this series 54-18-1, has won 26 consecutive November games since a 79-70 loss at Boston College on Nov. 26, 2004.