Aamir Simms (25) evaluates his options as he takes the ball up the court against UofSC in 2019

While the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the entire sports landscape, arguably nothing in this strange time in American sports history has been more disheartening than the cancelation of the 2020 installment of March Madness. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament never fails to generate a level of excitement and pandemonium that is relatively unmatched by any other athletic competition, and the abrupt ending to the 2019-20 season that saw many of the conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament effectively nullified due to COVID-19 left behind a dismal void in the college basketball world, particularly regarding programs with a legitimate shot of competing for a national championship.

As for whether or not the 2019-20 Clemson Tigers fell into that category will forever remain unknown, as the Tigers boasted a resume that was perhaps the strangest, most perplexing resume in the nation at the time of college basketball being halted. In addition to ending their long, storied winless streak in Chapel Hill, N.C., against the North Carolina Tar Heels, Clemson was the only team in the country to defeat three teams ranked No. 6 or higher in the AP Poll. Clemson’s season ended prior to the Tigers’ quarterfinal matchup in the ACC Tournament, and, with a 16-15 overall record, which included a 9-11 record in conference play, Clemson served as a curious case of a bubble team possessing a record not typically befitting of an NCAA Tournament at-large but with top-tier wins under its belt that no other team could compete with. Clemson could have potentially been announced as a participant in the March Madness field on Selection Sunday, but, unfortunately for the Tigers and so many other teams, Selection Sunday never came.

Therefore, the premature ending to Clemson’s fascinating season surely left a sour taste in the Tigers’ mouths and left the returning members of the team hungrier than ever to return to the “Big Dance” as soon as possible. The NCAA has made it clear that it intends to do whatever it takes to carry out the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The Tigers are poised to reintroduce themselves to the “Big Dance” for the first time since 2018 primarily because of an influx of young talent, in addition to the added desire to take part in March Madness after having the opportunity snatched away from them this year.

Clemson Head Coach Brad Brownell compiled what is, at least on paper, the best recruiting class of his career in the buildup to this season, highlighted by the prized commitment from the reigning South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, P.J. Hall. Hall will suit up for the Tigers once the season begins in late November, and the 6-foot-10-inch power forward is expected to contribute right away. Rated by most recruiting outlets as the top South Carolinian in the 2020 recruiting class, Hall arrived at Clemson after putting together a stellar high school career at Dorman High School in Spartanburg, S.C. In addition to having a strong presence at the rim, Hall has quite the shooting touch for a big man, making him a threat around the perimeter, as well as in the lane.

Hall, a four-star prospect, will be joined by a pair of fellow four-star freshmen in Brownell’s rotation this season, including Olivier-Maxence Prosper, who committed to Clemson by way of Montreal. The 6-foot-8-inch Canadian is a versatile wing player who mainly served as a power forward in his prep career but is slated to man the shooting guard and small forward positions at Clemson. Prosper is the first Canadian recruit to commit to play for Brownell, and he did so while completing his prep career at the NBA’s Latin American Academy in Mexico City. Prosper has already garnered plenty of experience playing against elite talent throughout his journey to competing at the collegiate level, and his solid shooting touch and superb athleticism have him primed for a successful Clemson career.

Prosper reclassified from the 2021 recruiting class to the class of 2020 in order to be able to take the floor for the Tigers this season, and 6-foot-10-inch center Lynn Kidd did the same. Coming from the renowned IMG Academy, Kidd, a Gainesville, Fla., native is a force to be reckoned with in the rebounding department and yet another four-star commit to join forces with the Tigers this fall. Kidd was a late signee to the 2020 recruiting class, and, needless to say, Brownell and his coaching staff are elated to have him on board for the season ahead. In terms of recruiting rankings, Hall, Kidd and Prosper represent three of the top 10 commits in the history of the Clemson men’s basketball program, and their arrival to Tigertown bodes well for plenty of winning at Littlejohn Coliseum for the foreseeable future. 

As the cream of the crop, so to speak, Hall will be looked upon to team up with senior leader Aamir Simms down low and man the NCAA Tournament charge for the Tigers this season. Hall is an excellent scorer with a knack for top-notch defending and rebounding, and expectations are conspicuously high for him. However, Clemson fans and fans of ACC basketball as a whole should not sleep on Kidd or Prosper, who could very well make names for themselves in the coming months, too. Most importantly, the freshman trio can make up for the lost time precluded by the pandemic nixing postseason play this spring. Once March of 2021 rolls around, Clemson’s NCAA Tournament resume might not be in question, as the Tigers could build off last season’s successes and erase any doubts about their ability to capture the spotlight and steal the show at this season’s edition of the “Big Dance,” making a Selection Sunday announcement inevitable for Clemson and its freshman phenoms.

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