Inside ACC Operation Basketball: The Players' Perspective

Steve Phillips is on site at 2015 ACC Operation Basketball and will offer notes and quotes from the event throughout Wednesday’s session. This notebook highlights the student-athletes attending the media event. (Click here for the coaches' notebook)


Miami’s Sheldon McClellan averaged 14.5 points as a junior last season while reaching double-figure scoring 31 times. There were 15 games in which he scored 10-or-more points in the second half alone.

Even so, there was some feeling among the Miami coaching staff that McClellan didn’t always look to score enough.

We had a meeting the first day of practice, Coach L (Jim Larrañaga) wants me to shoot the ball more, so that's what I'm going to try to do,” McClellan said, “Not in a selfish way, because I care about the team more than my stats or anything like that, but I am going to be more aggressive this year.”

Having said that, McClellan believes he has to develop that mindset prior to the Hurricanes’ opener against UT Rio Grande Valley on Nov. 13.

“Me personally, I don't like to think during the game,” he said. “When I think, I start messing up and start doing stuff I have no business doing. It's just a feeling you get in the game. It's just a finish you get. Scorers have a scorers' mentality and that's the type of mentality I'm going to bring this year.”


Wake Forest senior guard Codi Miller-McIntyre is currently hobbled  by a broken bone in his foot, but the Concord, North Carolina, native says it is most definitely a temporary setback. In fact, he has definite ideas on the timetable for his return.

“Definitely, my mindset is on Maui,”  Miller-McIntyre said. “That's when I need to be back. That's a big time tournament for big time players, and that's one I really don't want to sit out for.”

Even as he seeks to work his way back onto the court, Miller-McIntyre says there is a simple message he is imparting to his teammates as they seek to better last year’s 13-19 record and 12th –place showing: Every possession matters.

“We've had a few good games where we've won, but then also if you look at our record in the ACC, we had a few losses where we lost with under 10 points, and that happens towards the end of the game where we lose focus on attention to details and defensive principles and offensive principles,” he said. “Where this year if we understand that, then the six or seven games may result in wins, which results in postseason play.”


Virginia Tech senior Shane Henry feels that second-year head coach Buzz Williams has successfully laid out his vision for rebuilding the program, a vision that goes beyond stats and increased win totals.

“One of the main things Coach always says is that everything matters, if that's on the floor or if that's off the floor,” Henry said.  “I believe that everything he says means something, and if not basketball, it means something in life, or they connect with each other. I see that if you work towards something, if you really want something, that you will be rewarded with that. If not here, in the future. And if you believe that it will happen. But if you do things not the way they should be, it won't follow through.”

Henry said that after one season under Williams, he walks across campus literally pondering “what’s next.”

“That's one thing he always preaches to us is what's next. After practice, what's next? You've got to get to class and so forth and so on throughout our day,” Henry said. “And on campus I feel that everybody has really locked in and really grown to support the basketball team and our program and really noticed what we're doing and how it's impacting each of our lives.”

RING OF HONOR (11:50 a.m.)

Duke center Marshall Plumlee proudly displayed his national championship ring on Wednesday, but he said it was due mainly to his choice of attire for Operation Basketball – not a desire to make his attendees from fellow ACC schools envious.

“I put on the ring wherever I wear my Sunday best,” Plumlee said. “It's something I'm proud of, and every time I look at it, it reminds me of the great year I had and shared with my brothers this past year. It reminds me of how I want that again more than ever. I want to share it with this year's team. It’s different from player to player, but me personally, I only wear it when I dress up nice.”

The returning Blue Devils would deeply love to acquire a ring for their other hands, and Amile Jefferson said an ACC championship ring alone would rank high in terms of prestige,

“This league is amazingly tough,” Jefferson said. “It's one of if not the toughest league in the country. I've been around before the league expanded, and with the expansion, it just made it even tougher. You know, to add a school like Louisville, a school like Syracuse, schools that just have so much tradition and pride themselves on not only academic excellence but excellence in the field of sports, of basketball, it makes for an amazing league and for there to be big games every time you play. There are no easy games in our league.”


Pitt figures to be bolstered by the addition of five transfer students to this season’s roster.

“I think we're looking for five guys that want to go out there and play,” junior forward Jamel Artis said. “It doesn't matter if they're freshmen or if they're transfers. Five guys go out there and compete at the right level and do what the team asks them to do, it's fine with me. It doesn’t matter if it's five freshmen if they go out there and play hard.”

Artis added, however, that experience often does provide an edge.

“Five transfers, and we've got three graduate (students),” he noted. “So they're more smarter and older and know where to be, and I think that'll help us a lot.”

When it comes to experience however, Artis may possess the greatest wealth. He carries an 18-game streak of double-figure scoring into this season, and he reached double-digits a total oif 25 times as a sophomore. He added six rebounds per game. 

“I think I'm at my highest peak right now,” Artis said. “I'm more focused than ever. Last year I wasn't that focused. Right now I'm so focused. I'm ready for the season to tip off. I'm very excited for this team. I think we're going to be a very good up and coming team. We're going to make some noise this year. I'm ready for the first game to get to Gonzaga (Nov. 13 in Okinawa, Japan).”


This season will see Georgia Tech welcome transfer Adam Smith, who led Virginia Tech in scoring last season with 13.4 point per game. Last season, Charles Mitchell stepped in for the Yellow Jackets after playing two seasons at Maryland when the Terrapins were still part of the ACC.

Both new arrivals has set well with senior Marcus Georges-Hunt, who led Georgia Tech in scoring last season with a career-high 13.6 points per game.

“Being that they've been in this wonderful league, they know what it takes to win, and they know that each and every night, it's not going to be easy,” Georges-Hunt said. “No matter what the record is, each team brings it and each team is different. I feel like them having the experience, they can help me out a lot and our team out a lot, being that they've been through the tough times and experienced every arena, environment, and I feel like that'll help our team in the long run.”

Georges-Hunt feels this could be the year the Yellow Jackets turn a corner under fifth-year head coach Brian Gregory.

“I feel like that everybody is buying into what Coach Gregory is putting on the table, and I feel like at this point we're all hungry for success, for one another,” Georges-Hunt said. “It's not just about one person. We feel like it's about all 14 guys, including the coaches, and I feel like being that we have that type of relationship and we care for one another, that can take you a long way.”

CAT MAKES HIS POINT (11:15 a.m.)

NC State point guard Cat Barber ended last season playing the best basketball of his life, and the 6-foot-2 junior is seeking to maintain that momentum.

“I think it started at the end of the year in the Georgia Tech game when I came out and had a big game and just carried over throughout the other games, throughout us making it to the Sweet 16,” Barber said. “I just think (head coach Mark Gottfried) believes in me and everybody on my team does. I feel like this upcoming year is going to be the same, like as I took over from last year. But I feel like it's a great year for me and my teammates. I feel like it's a great year for me, so I'm just going come out and do what I have to do.”

Barber said he plans to continue his role as a “scoring point guard.”

“I can get my teammates in positions to score the ball, but my whole life I've been able to score the ball, just be a variety of players, do different things,” Barber said. “But right now I feel like I score the ball more.”

As a point guard, Barber believes he is a part of the ACC’s strongest collective position.

“(North Carolina’s) Marcus Paige is a good point guard, (Notre Dame’s) Demetrius Jackson is a very good point guard … myself,” Paige said. “There are a lot of them in the ACC. I can't name everybody right now, but there are a lot of them.”


As the ultimate veteran on a seasoned team that has won 60 total games and finished atop the ACC standings each of the past two years, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon is primed for his final go-around with the Cavaliers.

“I think I have been here for a while,” Brogdon said. “It's been five years, but it feels like 10. There's a lot of pride going into this season. I want my class, Anthony (Gill), Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte …  I want us to go out on a bang. So we're going to give it all we've got. We've been trying to lead as best we can this off-season, and you know, we're going to put our heads down and get to work once the season starts.”

Virginia, which won the ACC title in 2014, has re-established itself as on the nation’s elite programs under seventh-year head coach Tony Bennett.

“I think it's a legacy that was starting to be built even before we got here, but I think while we've been here we've been able to get over the hump and have those successful seasons that have really put Virginia on the map, and I think that's all credit to Coach Bennett” Brogdon said.  “I think it's a legacy that he started in the way that he recruits guys. He recruits guys with character like him. He recruits guys that are going to be calm, that are going to be composed in tense situations, and I think it's all a reflection of how he's coached us and the turnaround that he's influenced at UVA.”


Syracuse shot 66 percent from the foul line season, and senior Michael Gbinije knows a better showing would have almost certainly resulted in an even better record than the 18-13 mark the Orange wound up posting.

“We definitely did not shoot well from the free-throw line last year,” he said. “We're looking to improve that this year. We've just got the mental approach of taking our time and just making sure that our mechanics are right and just going out and shooting it with confidence.”
Gbinije said he and his teammates have been ending each practice day with 10 minutes devoted solely to shooting free throws. The next step, he said, will be to apply the mentality of being an accurate team from the line once Syracuse gets its season underway against Lehigh on Nov. 13.

“We've got to start early in these exhibition games and the early weeks of our first games coming up,” he said. “We've just got to attack the basket, get to the line and get in a rhythm early.”

HE MEANS BUSINESS (10:40 a.m.)

Jim Christian is the second head coach that Dennis Clifford has played under at  Boston College, and the redshirt senior said he is looking forward to his final season under Christian’s watch.

“I like his energy,” the 7-foot Clifford said. “He's real energetic and you can tell he's passionate about what the game is all about and what he's teaching to you. When he needs to get a point across, he won't let up. As he said, you've got to meet him up here, he's not going to meet you at your level. He really pushes guys to kind of reach new levels of their game.”

Clifford said neither he nor his teammates take it personally when Christian raises his voice an octave … or two.

“The only reason why he would yell at you is because he believes that you can do that,” Clifford said. “He's mentioned that to us as a team before.”

As Christian enters his second season at BC, Clifford expects those following ACC basketball to begin seeing the tough love pay dividends.

“I think we're going to surprise a lot of people this year,” Clifford said. “I think we're going to have a very positive season.”

FEELS LIKE HOME (10:20 a.m.)

With Littlejohn Coliseum under renovation this fall and winter, the Clemson Tigers will play all of their “home” games this season roughly 45 minutes from campus in Greenville, S.C. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, said senior center Landry Nnoko.

“I think it's going to be really good for us,” Nnoko said. “The people down there are really excited about our team coming down there and playing for them. The arena is really well-built.”

Junior Jaron Blossomgame, who returns after leading the Tigers in both scoring (13.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.2 rpg) last season, concurs.

“We had two scrimmages there, and it gives you a Clemson feel,” he said. “They have the Clemson logos everywhere you see, and outside the arena in downtown they have billboards of players and everything, so it gives us a sense of home court. It'll be really good. I think a lot of people will come out and they're really excited to see us play.”


Senior guard Marcus Paige is expected to be the team leader for North Carolina, but sophomore Justin Jackson believes he will have plenty of company in that regard.

“Obviously Marcus is a leader for us, but I wouldn't say it's just Marcus,” said Jackson. “Everybody has come in with the mindset that we can really do this. And so with that mindset, I think going into the off-season everybody tried to work on their weaknesses, everybody tried to do whatever they could do to make themselves better to make the team better. With that, Coach (Roy Williams) always comes into practice and says if we do all the little things, do everything we can, we have a chance to be really good. And for that, it just gives us all motivation to keep doing everything we can, to work as hard as we can.”

Jackson steadily improved throughout the course of his freshman season and finished last season tied for third on the team scoring at 11.4 per game. Many predict the 2015-16 season could be a true “breakout” year for the 6-foot-8 Texas native. 

“The biggest thing for me is confidence,” Jackson said. “This time last year, I was nowhere near as confident as I am now, on and off the court. And I think that will really help me individually and help the team, as well. And so for that, I think I'm really looking forward to how the season will play out for me and then how the season will play out for the team. We're really looking forward to it.”


Even with NBA draftees Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton having departed from last season’s ACC championship team, expectations remain high for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are ranked among the nation’s top 25, and returning starters Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia rank among the league’s top returning players. Still, no one on South Bend is on auto-pilot.

“Coach (Mike) Brey emphasized us trying to come back for the season, restarting,” the 6-foot-10 Auguste said.  “We have to create our own (team) out there. Pat and Jerain were a big part of our success last year,  but now we're just focused on rebuilding and restarting.”

Auguste said there is a collective mentality among Notre Dame’s returnees as they seek to make up the combined the 27.8 points Grant and Connaughton provided last season.

“You know, we play efficient basketball and we play together, so I think it's going to be something that we handle as a team,” Auguste said. “Me and Demetrius, we take that role where we understand we've got to start putting more balls in the hoops. I think if we just continue to do that, I think we'll be fine. It's not pressure, but it's kind of like responsibility. If I just focus on rebounding and focus as a team to get the job done, I think we'll be fine.”


A year ago,  Xavier Rathan-Mayes began his college career at Florida State not certain what to expect – and the feeling was mutual among ACC fans and media.

He enters his sophomore year off a season in which he wound up averaging 14.9 points per game to  become just the second freshman in program history to lead the Seminoles in scoring. Most expect even more from the sharp-shooting guard from Canada, starting with Rathan-Mayes himself. Expect continued scoring, but look for a more rounded player as he assumes point guard duties full time.  

“I think the biggest thing for me is last year I was going in not knowing my expectations for the year,” Rathan-Mayes said. “I  got put into a role early where we lost Aaron (Thomas, the team’s leading scorer), and I was put into the position where I had to play more of a role for the team. This year coming in, I know what I have to do, and I think my teammates and my coaches have done a great job of allowing me to be the player that I am and keep learning on the fly. I know I'm going to be a point guard, and just knowing how to get guys involved and knowing when to get myself involved, too, is probably the biggest thing for me.”

With a veteran returning cast that includes all five starters and four key reserves from last season, many believe the Seminoles could be a dark horse team of sorts, not only in the ACC, but nationally.

“We want to win,” Rahtan-Mayes said. “That's been our motto all summer:  to be a great team and to win this season. With guys like Montay (Brandon) and our seniors this year, we want to do something special for them, and it's going to be a big year for us. We want to send our seniors off on the right note.”

GOING TO WORK (9:30 a.m.)

After ranking fourth in the nation in scoring with 21.4 points per game last season at Drexel, Damion Lee hopes to supply Louisville with similar firepower this season. The 6-foot-6 senior from Baltimore, said the work ethic associated with the Cardinals’ program prompted him to choose Louisville for his final collegiate season.

“(It was) the personality of the program and everyone who's within the Louisville program,” said Lee, who also pulled down 6.1 rebounds per game last season. “It doesn't matter what sport it is, a lot of teams have this hashtag that's on their Verizon I see or on their shirts, and it's #bcm, which is blue collar mentality. So basically, we don't necessarily have all the bells and whistles that all the other schools may have, but we pick up our lunch pail and we go to work every single day.”

Lee believes he and fellow transfer Trey Lewis  (Cleveland State) will fit in nicely with the Cardinals’ incoming freshman class and returning players to fill the void left by the departures of four starters from last season.

“We're very diverse,” Lee said. “We have a lot of young guys, and we have older guys that have been through the wars and been through the trenches. Even though we all come from different backgrounds, I think that everyone that's on the team brings something special that I think will really make this team special.”