In four seasons as head men’s basketball coach at Clemson, Brad Brownell has led the Tigers to a pair of 20-win seasons, including last year’s 23-13 squad that reached the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). Brownell, a product of basketball hotbed Indiana, thus rebounded from a 13-18 mark a year earlier, and signs are that he has the Tigers on the road to becoming a regular competitive force in the top-flight ACC.
So what’s his next step?
“Well, that’s a phrase we’ve been using,” he said. “We certainly want to take the next step, and that’s to become an NCAA (tournament) participant, and hopefully advance” in the tournament.
“We’ve got to remake this team a little bit (after losing All-Atlantic Coast Conference forward K.J. McDaniel to the NBA), but I like the pieces we have and feel really good about the upcoming season.”
If coaching basketball is his profession, though, another sport — golf — is his personal passion. Not a lot of other NCAA basketball coaches took time to post on Twitter about the US team’s loss to Europe in this fall’s Ryder Cup matches.
“I’m a huge golf fan; I love to play,” he said. “I don’t get to play as much as I would like. It sort of goes in spurts because of the job; I’ll get a good two weeks, but then won’t play again for a month or six weeks.
“But I’ve always played. My father (Bob, who introduced his son to the game) was a really good player growing up, and I played high school golf. And I love the Ryder Cup, love the team format and love to see the best players in the world compete under the most pressure. That’s something I’m used to doing with coaching.”
Brownell’s lowest handicap was a “four or five,” he said, and he says he’s not far off that now. “I’ve never really had any lessons, and I still ‘baseball-grip’ it,” he said. “But I got to play quite a bit growing up on a little par-3 course in Evansville, Indiana, and as I got older I played more.”
He began his team’s 2014–15 season with (what else?) a media golf outing at The Cliffs at Keowee Springs, and Brownell says he enjoys the game’s counterintuitive nature. “You can try harder, you can sprint to your ball, but it doesn’t make the next shot any easier,” he said. “The mental challenges of the game are enormous, and to master (the game) is even more difficult.
“But it’s a great way to spend a good afternoon with somebody you haven’t spent time with in a long time, really get to know them. It’s a game I love and get great enjoyment from. You can compete, but still have fun with it.”
He’s had fun learning about South Carolina and its wealth of great golf. “I haven’t played a lot of the different courses around the state,” he said with a laugh, “but I’m open to any invitations.”
Hometown: Evansville, Indiana
Bio: Graduate of DePauw University (1991); assistant coach, Evansville (1991–92), Indianapolis (1992–94) and UNC Wilmington (1994–2002); head coach, UNC Wilmington (2002–06) and Wright State (2006–10); became Clemson head coach 2010.
Highlights: Won Colonial Athletic Associations regular-season and tournament titles, 2003 and 2006; won Horizon League regular-season and tournament titles, 2007; posted two of Clemson’s 13 20-win seasons in 2010–11 and 2013–14 (23-13) and led Tigers to semifinals of the NIT in 2013–14.
Where I play: “(Greenville Country Club’s) Chanticleer is obviously terrific; I’ve had the opportunity to play that a couple of times. I play a lot at The Reserve (at Lake Keowee), which I like. Down in Charleston, I’ve played Bulls Bay. Several of The Cliffs courses are good; I really enjoyed playing The Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards. I’ve played the Walker Course (in Clemson) a good bit. I grew up playing (municipal courses); I wasn’t a country-club guy. I’ve played the heck out of Boscobel in Pendleton; those are unbelievable greens there, and it’s an unbelievable challenge in terms of short game and putting, hitting to the right spots.”
Where I eat: “Now you’re going to put me in trouble if I mention some places and not others. For barbecue, right here in the Pendleton area, Smokin’ Pig is as good as it gets. That’s fantastic. I love Rick Erwin’s restaurants in Greenville West End Grille and Nantucket Seafood; both of those are really good and he’s bringing one to Clemson. Hall’s Steak House in Charleston, I’ve been there several times and love that place. I’m more of a Midwestern red-meat guy, but I’m getting better on seafood (in South Carolina).”