CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Joe Girard III found out quickly his latest ACC stop wasn't going to be like his last.
The Syracuse transfer recalls getting ready for his first day of class at Clemson and finding fresh-baked cookies outside his door with a note wishing him good luck at school.
“I'm not saying you don't get that in New York, but it was very few (and far) in between," said Girard, one of the most coveted portal players this past offseason.
Girard averaged 16.4 points last season as a senior for the Orange. He joins a Clemson group led by forward PJ Hall, who averaged 15.3 points a game, giving the Tigers two of the ACC's top returning scorers from last season.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said the 6-foot-2 graduate student guard brings the experience of his four seasons at Syracuse, where doing things the right way on the court was a requirement if you were going to play. Girard made 88 3-pointers, more than anyone at Clemson last year, and has the savvy to bring the ball up the court, too.
Girard saw Clemson's positives, both when he was at Syracuse and on his offseason visit, Brownell said.
“I think we’re respected in the league pretty well,” Brownell said. “Like I think coaches and players in our league respect us and play against us for how we play and how we do things in our approach.”
Girard and Syracuse reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament when he was a sophomore in 2021. He thinks Clemson, which didn't make the NCAAs last year despite a 23-11 record and 14-6 mark in the ACC, has the pieces to make a solid tournament run this season.
“I haven't been able to get back there since and I've been kind of itching for it,” Girard said. “I'm someone who loves to win and this team had a lot of wins last year.”
“I just wanted to go somewhere where I knew I could get myself to play into March and prepare for a long, long season,” he said.
A big part of the Tigers will be Hall, the 6-foot-10 senior who was the team's top scorer and rebounder last season. Hall explored his NBA draft potential last spring before deciding on another season in college. Point guard Chase Hunter, who also averaged double-digit scoring (13.5 points a game) last fall, is also back and should form one of the ACC's top guard combos with Girard.
While other coaches on campus like football's Dabo Swinney have shied away from the portal, that's not the case for Brownell, who has used it boost his roster quite often in his 14 seasons. Along with Girard from Syracuse, Clemson brought in Air Force guard Jake Heidbreder; and a pair of 6-10 newcomers in Jack Clark who spent time at LaSalle and, most recently, North Carolina State, and Bas Leyte of UNC Greensboro.
A YEAR AGO
Clemson looked like it had a case for the NCAA tourney last year with those 14 ACC victories, including a home win over Duke. But there were enough negatives on the Tigers' resume — a loss at struggling rival South Carolina early in the season — to relegate them to the NIT where they lost their opener to Morehead State. Brownell is emphasizing a strong start and no let downs on a team with 11 upperclassmen on the roster.
Clemson has been known for developing young, unheralded prepsters into all-ACC players like KJ McDaniels, Jaron Blossomgame, Amir Simms and Hunter Tyson. Brownell believes sophomores RJ Godfrey and Chaucey Wiggins could be the next on that track. Both were in the regular rotation a year ago and could play themselves into bigger roles this season. Godfrey is a 6-8 forward while Wiggins is among four players 6-10 or taller on the roster.
Clemson has a handful of early tests, starting in a four-team tournament in Asheville, North Carolina, the first weekend of the season that includes Maryland and Davidson. The Tigers will go to Alabama in late November and have non-conference games with Memphis, TCU and rival South Carolina in December. ACC play starts in December at Pitt and kicks off in full at Miami on Jan. 3.
___ Get poll alerts and updates on the AP Top 25 Basketball Polls throughout the season. Sign up here ___ AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball