Full transcript of Clemson coach Brad Brownell at Thursday’s NCAA Tournament press conference

No. 6 seed Clemson will take on No. 11 seed New Mexico in the opening round of the West Region of the NCAA Tournament Friday. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:10 p.m. EDT at Memphis’ FedExForum. The game will be televised by truTV.

Ahead of the game, Clemson coach Brad Brownell spoke to reporters at Thursday’s NCAA Tournament press conference.

Quotes via the Clemson Athletic Department:

BRAD BROWNELL: Just excited to be here. Really happy for our players, especially after being left out last year. Just really wanted these guys to be able to experience this opportunity.

We were last in the tournament, I think it was in ’21, which was the COVID year. So guys like Chase and PJ, for us, Alex Hemenway, those guys didn’t really get a true NCAA Tournament.

So we’re just excited to be here. Have a lot of respect for Richard. Coached against him while he was at Minnesota. He’s done a terrific job there at New Mexico. Super talented team that is probably playing their best basketball when it matters most right now, having won the Mountain West Tournament. And we know we have our hands full with that group.

But we’re looking forward to the challenge. And we didn’t play our best in our last outing. And I think our guys are looking forward to doing a little bit better this time.

Q. Obviously you added a couple of important pieces, but the core of this team are guys who have been together for a long time. How has that changed the way you coached them? And how has that made them better because of maybe that chemistry or whatever you’ve seen?

BRAD BROWNELL: I think coaching right now is really challenging. As much as I love building a program and having guys on my team for four and five years, guys like PJ and Chase, I know that’s becoming much more rare and challenging.

So it changes things a little bit. You certainly have to be open to the portal. I think the most important thing is you find kids that fit what you’re about, fit your program. You bring in guys that have opportunities to play so that there’s an understanding there. And I think it’s really important that the guys who are still in your program are open to that.

I pride myself on being extremely honest with our players. Sometimes they don’t like all the things I have to say to them, but I do think they think I have their best interests at heart, and I’m always honest in terms of what we’re trying to get done. And so we talk about bringing guys in and what we’re looking to do and what that means moving forward.

And certainly the guys that we brought in this year, we knew they were impact guys. And we thought we had a chance to have a really good team. And Joe and Jack Clark and Bas and those guys have done a really nice job of helping our team.

They did exactly kind of what we recruited them to do. And I give a lot of credit to the guys in our program because they’ve welcomed those guys, and we’ve had a great locker room.

Somebody just asked me in the back there, what was the strength of our team, and I think it’s our togetherness. I think we have guys that really care about one another. And I’m really proud of that and proud of our team because of that.

Q. New Mexico, asking the players, they were saying the tempo, reminds them a little bit of Alabama. Would you say that’s accurate? What do you have to do well to combat that?

BRAD BROWNELL: Obviously transition — defense, rebounding are important, much like when you play North Carolina. They’re an outstanding rebounding team as well.

But they have great speed. Their guard play is outstanding, and that’s not to take anything away from the two post players. The more I’ve watched them, the more impressed I’ve been.

But we’ve got to run good offense. We have to take care of the ball. They’re aggressive defensively in certain ways, and they’ll even gamble a little bit and go for steals and they try to block a lot of shots. They get their hands on balls. They’re very active. They’re playing really hard.

Us executing, us running good stuff, us being opportunistic. It’s not like we don’t want to run; when we have opportunities, we do. But just being smart about how we play and making sure that we’re balanced on defense and that we rebound the ball very well.

Q. How did that hit you when the news on Selection Sunday that you’d be coming back here?

BRAD BROWNELL: It was funny, because we’re all kind of standing there as coaches, and are we going to be in the 7-10 game here, are we going to be in the 6-11 game there. We figured those were the two most likely scenarios.

The longer it went obviously you get a little more anxious. But then it was like, hey, we see that Memphis is open. We’ve been there. We’ve played in the arena. Pretty cool.

Although the game didn’t end the way we wanted it to, it was a heck of a game. Our guys played pretty well in spurts and shot the ball well. We had a great first experience here minus the ending, maybe the last two minutes.

So we were excited. Also, we know a lot of our fans are going to be able to come. It’s close enough that they can come. And with it being on Friday makes it even easier for folks to get off work. So happy to be in Memphis.

Q. If you were going to go back to a place that you had played earlier in the season would you rather have been somewhere where you had won?

BRAD BROWNELL: I don’t think we really worried about those kinds of things. Just somewhere where they’re going to take good care of us, and they have so far.

Q. One more on the veterans and the guys that have been here with you. Is it easier to make in-game adjustments when you have guys you know well, they know you?

BRAD BROWNELL: That’s a good point. And yes, it is. It’s much easier with an older group and with some experienced players that you’ve kind of been around a couple of years to know — because I am a coach that adjusts a lot game to game.

We change our scouting. We change our ball screen coverages. We run different packages offensively in different games. We probably do more different things than a lot of teams in our league.

And it does help to have a veteran group and it helps to have guys you’ve been with a couple of years to kind of understand that and pass it along.

I do think we have a tremendous culture. We have former players that we’ve heard a lot from recently supporting us and it’s just passed on down — Eli Thomas to Aamir Simms to PJ Hall to Ian Schieffelin. And it’s been that way for a number of years and it’s something we’re proud of.

Q. Three players all said they hated losing in the ACC Tournament early, but it gave you extra practice time. And I think they all said practice went well. What did you see in practice? And Joseph said they even got the edge back that you had earlier.

BRAD BROWNELL: I hope so. I don’t know if we have played as poorly as it’s been made out by some of the media. I realize we’ve lost three out of four. And we did play very poorly against Boston College. Some of that — I don’t want to take anything away from Boston College; Boston College is playing great basketball right now, and just had a really good win against Providence on the road. But we didn’t play well in that game.

The loss to Wake Forest, we played pretty well. Wake lost one game at home all year, and we had a chance to win late and just couldn’t get it done. But we played well.

We had some good wins in the last two weeks, at home against Pittsburgh and Syracuse, two 20-win teams.

So I don’t think we’re playing as poorly as some folks think, but we did play poorly in the ACC Tournament.

Got home and had to face it. I was very direct with our players that it was a missed opportunity. And I was really disappointed in it.

And I think sometimes you can, at this time of year there are more distractions than ever. And I just challenged our guys to try to get back to the mindset that we had in November and December.

And a lot of that, it’s funny, but I asked our guys, in November, what were you thinking about in regards to basketball. And they said, yeah, we’re tired of practice; we just want to play. And it really doesn’t matter who we play.

And then as you’re winning in November and December, there’s a joy and an excitement and an enthusiasm that you ride that wave.

But then the season hits and you’re going to have some ups and downs. And we certainly have been through a few of those. You’ve got to kind of reset.

We just talked about resetting, recentering ourselves, eliminating as many distractions and as much of the noise as we can and get back to work. So we practiced twice on Saturday and once on Sunday, did a very light workout on Monday and have worked out obviously Tuesday and Wednesday to get ready.

I think we’re ready. I hope we’re recentered. But this is about players making plays and we’re going to find out where our guys are here come game time.

Q. In a conference and a school that’s kind of football-driven in the conversation a lot of the times, how important can the success in March, specifically, be when you’re in the national spotlight, everybody is watching, to prove to or showcase to collectives, administration, boosters what the value of contributing to your program is?

BRAD BROWNELL: I don’t think it’s just the end of the year. Certainly that’s a part of it and making the NCAA Tournament is unbelievably hard. And so just getting to here is step one. Certainly building off of this, it’s an unbelievable opportunity. And we love to take the next step. That’s what we’re trying to do as a program.

We’ve been to three of the last seven. So we’ve made some steps here. We went to a Sweet 16 in ’18. So we know what it looks like. I think we’ve been consistently, I think we’re fifth in the ACC in wins over the last five years.

So I think we’ve done a lot of really good things that show people that we’re a good basketball program. We’re doing things the right way.

But, again, to take another step, we’ve got to bust through consistently this time of year. In this tournament, it gives you the opportunity to do that. Nobody wants to more than me or our players. And so, again, we’re excited about the opportunity that we have against New Mexico to do that.

Q. You were talking about distractions earlier. There’s been stuff in the news the last couple days with regard to the ACC and the conference and all that stuff. Is that a distraction?

BRAD BROWNELL: No, to be honest with you, I’m not involved in any of that. There’s a lot of folks on our campus much smarter than me that are leading our university.

Graham Neff, our athletic director; Jim Clements, our president; our board — we have great leadership at our school. They’re handling that. My head’s been down; they’ve not called me one time to ask me my opinion. Thankfully I’m focused on New Mexico.

Q. Do you have an opinion?

BRAD BROWNELL: No, it’s too important for me to be involved in anything like that.

Q. On the topic of distractions, how have you found the transfer portal opening right before the NCAA Tournament starts? What’s that been like for you and your staff?

BRAD BROWNELL: Distracting. And I’m on an NABC committee that — I was adamantly against this for this very reason. It’s a hard time of year for everybody, players, coaches, the whole nine yards.

There’s a lot of coaches, especially at mid-major schools, whose tournaments end earlier and they were very vocal about, the longer we have to wait, the harder it is for us to have to figure out what to do.

I understand why there’s a segment of our coaching fraternity that wants that, but I also think this is really — I don’t think this is the right time. And for folks to be talking about it, and the media is talking about it to some degree, and as coaches have to have one eye on it — I wished we could wait a couple more weeks, maybe not all the way through the Final Four certainly, but at least one more week to next week when now there’s only 16 teams playing, and even, if possible, to get to the following week of the Final Four would even be best. But we’re all kind of living and learning through this process right now.

Q. When you list some of the accolades, three tournaments the last seven years, Sweet 16, do you feel the fan base appreciates that, are they able to see the bigger picture and how do you deal with people who don’t quite think you do enough?

BRAD BROWNELL: I don’t worry about it. I hope they do. More importantly, it’s about my administration and the folks that I work for, and my players understanding that we’re doing the best we can to put them in position to be successful and showing folks that this is a winning program and there has been a pretty high level of consistency.

We’re trying to raise the ceiling, certainly. I know we’ve raised the floor considerably since I got here. But I don’t get too distracted with all of that. I’ve got enough to worry about, day to day just coaching my team and planning for the future.

–Quotes via the Clemson Athletic Department

Story originally appeared on Clemson Wire