Clemson’s late-season swoon didn’t just cost a February bubble team a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
It also denied star forward Jaron Blossomgame of a golden opportunity.
You might not be able to name 20 players participating in this year’s main college basketball event, which spans three weeks and over numerous television networks, quite yet.
However, by the time the dust settles and there are four teams left, unknowns and little-knowns will become household names, thanks to running buzzer beaters, high-scoring performances in upsets of powerhouses and an incredible amount of media exposure.
Just last season alone, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, Duke’s Tyus Jones and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant all benefited greatly from long tournament runs that helped lead to them being first-round NBA Draft picks.
LSU has who many consider the best player in the country right now, yet the Tigers aren’t in the Big Dance. That, combined with a few other issues, have NBA pundits now questioning if Ben Simmons will actually be the No. 1 pick in June. It’s certainly possible another talented young player could have a huge March Madness run and push Simmons down draft boards everywhere.
So just think what not making the Big Dance is doing to Blossomgame’s stock. Missing out on the NIT isn’t a big deal. Not being in the NCAAs is a different deal.
The Tigers’ leading scorer has had a memorable season. He’s averaging 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game overall and put up 20 points per game in ACC play. That helped him land on the All-ACC first team earlier this month and solidify him as one of the top talents in one of the nation’s top conferences, but how many people really know who he is?
A Sports Illustrated pre-NCAA tourney mock draft didn’t have Blossomgame listed in the first round, and maybe that would change if he declares early. He’s simply not on many highly-publicized radars right now, though.
Based on his talent and size, he’s probably a late-first round type at best, but not playing big-boy basketball this month keeps a lot of scouts and team executives from seeing that. Imagine if he went out and put up 22 and 10 against Kansas in the second round or led the Tigers to an improbable Sweet 16 run. His stock would soar.
Instead, Blossomgame is left with a tough decision: hope to impress NBA teams during the evaluation process and declare early, or return to school and try to lead the Tigers to the NCAA tourney in 2017.
It’s not an easy call. Every young man is different, so there’s no blanket advice.
Blossomgame is an old junior. He redshirted his first year on campus to recover from devastating leg injuries. Coming back from all that to be this good proves something, but is it enough?
Think about this: If he returned, Brad Brownell would have his deepest and most talented team yet. Heading into the renovated Littlejohn Coliseum, hopes and expectations would be high, and Blossomgame could benefit from leading his team to a successful season and the NCAA Tournament.
At the same time, he takes a lot of performance and health risks by returning. Plus, nothing is guaranteed in this sport either way, and he isn’t getting any younger.
After losing to Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament last week, Blossomgame was not ready to address his future in the postgame locker room. But the time is coming soon when he'll have to, and it’s a decision that could have a lasting impact on both Blossomgame and the Clemson program.