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How do you Like me Now: Brad Brownell Silences Haters as Clemson Basketball Soars into Elite 8

Brad Brownell could very well be the living embodiment of a country song right now. In the words of the late Toby Keith…

“How do you like me now? Now that I’m on my way?”

Right now, the Tigers’ often questioned and frequently criticized basketball coach and his team of gutsy, resilient Tigers are on their way to the Elite 8 for just the second time in program history. So just maybe it is time for the haters to slink back into the shadows.

Brad Brownell has been second-guessed at every turn. Perhaps legitimately at times, but when the rubber met the road, Brownell met the challenge. Now, he has Clemson basketball one win away from their first Final 4 appearance in program history.

How do you like that?

It is not that Brownell has silenced his critics. It is the way he has done it. When Chase Hunter and company put the finishing touches on Clemson’s 75-70 victory over Arizona in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night, it continued an improbable run that has seen the Tigers trail for less than 90 seconds combined in their first three tournament games. Let that sink in. The Tigers have trailed for less than 120 seconds in the entire tournament. Their largest deficit? Two points.

Clemson has been dominant. Do you not think Brad Brownell has had at least a small hand in that proliferation? Sure, the Tigers have lost several games in recent years that they should have won. Clemson has blown some leads when they were up big late. Does every program not suffer that fate from time to time? Why, then, do Clemson fans magnify the scope of such occasional failures so brightly?

Clemson has never been a “basketball” school, so why has there been a need to denigrate rather than celebrate the Tigers’ successes? Tonight, there is nothing to complain about. Well, maybe the refs. But if any Clemson fan still has reservations about Brad Brownell’s ability to coach his team to victory in big games, maybe they should re-evaluate their perspective on the game and reconsider what their expectations have been. I can almost assure them; they did not expect the Tigers to be playing in the Elite 8.

Oh, and Brownell has the full support of his players. In fact, they love him. That in itself should be enough for the fans. Joe Girard III, who did not even begin his career as a Clemson Tiger, has only played for Coach Brownell for one season. And his one statement was perhaps the most poignant when he addressed the haters after Clemson’s second round victory over 3-seed Baylor which followed an opening round thrashing of New Mexico.

“I don’t like really doing this, but all those fire Brownell guys can, you know, kiss it,” Girard said. “He has done an unbelievable job here. He has built this program for 14 years. He has been in the league for so long. You don’t get that every day. You don’t get that everywhere.”

Joe Girard III

And senior P.J. Hall, who has played his entire career at Clemson and remained loyal to Brownell and Tigers, reiterated his teammate’s point.

“For four years I have had to listen to people hating on that man and they do not understand how incredible he is behind closed doors and how much of genius he is. He is a blessing to be at Clemson,” Hall emphatically stated.

P.J. Hall

Here is the bottom line: Rome was not built in a day. Neither was Clemson basketball. Brad Brownell has been building a respectable program brick by brick, and just because it has taken longer than some fans may like, does not mean it has not been incredibly successful in its construction.

As the Tigers rest on Friday and await the winner between North Carolina and Alabama, Brownell and the Tigers are one brick away from completing the house. The house built by the coach that a large portion of the Clemson fan base did not want. Now, there is nothing left for them to say.

How do you like that?

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