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Feb. 17, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – There are some athletes who just seem to exude confidence.
You see it in their demeanor and their performance. They make a play in crucial situations, they pick up their teammates in dire circumstances, they just seem to know what to do at exactly the right time.
There are several basketball players like that in the ACC. Count Demontez Stitt of Clemson as one of them.
“You watch him when he plays and (he does) whatever is needed,” said NC State coach Sidney Lowe. “He’s going to defend you, he’s going to score the ball. I think it’s just his makeup. He’s just a tough kid, a tough young man. He really competes and obviously means a lot to that program.”
Stitt, a senior guard, didn’t arrive on the Clemson campus oozing with confidence. He took things slowly and learned from experienced players like Cliff Hammonds.
“When you’re a freshman you make a lot of mistakes,” Stitt said. “Guys are a lot smarter, a lot quicker and a lot stronger. When I first came in it was a struggle. Cliff Hammonds, he was the best leader I ever played under. He worked hard and did everything the right way, on and off the court.
“I think more confidence came my sophomore year after I got that first year under my belt and things started to just open up for me. I think it’s my time to lead the other guys and teach them the same way that I had been taught.”
Brad Brownell, the Tigers’ first-year coach, relies on Stitt to set the tone for the rest of the team.
“He’s a heck of a competitor,” Brownell said. “He comes to compete every night, he wants to win, he’s been a backbone of our team for certain with his competitive fire.”
Brownell said it’s not just Stitt’s play on the court that helps his team.
“He doesn’t have fear when we go play (on the road),” the coach said. “He’s very confident in his ability and I think that carries into our team in terms of when we’re in a tough spot. We’re looking for him, not always just to make a play but whether it might be in a huddle or a time out or anything.
“I think our guys gain confidence from his strength and from his confidence as a player. And certainly there are times also if we get a little wobbly on the road, he’s not afraid to grab the ball and go make a play. It might be for himself, it might be for somebody else.”
Stitt’s leadership on the road will really come into play during Clemson’s next two games. The Tigers play at NC State tonight and at Miami Sunday. They stand at 6-5 in the ACC, 17-8 overall, and it’s clear they need a surge to have a chance to finish among the top four teams and earn a first-round bye for the ACC Tournament.
Clemson is 1-4 in ACC road games, with two of the losses coming by two points and another by six points.
“It’s hard to go on the road in the ACC,” Stitt said. “It’s intense and the players on the other team have a lot more energy. This game right here (NC State) is important for us after losing at home (to North Carolina). If we could get two in a row on the road it would be good for us as a team.
“When we’re down or things get tough, it’s easy for teams to fade away in road games because you don’t have the crowd behind you. For us the biggest thing is maintaining focus on the road and also finishing the game strong.”
Being a leader is one thing, but it also helps to have the ability to back it up. Early on, Stitt showed a knack for getting to the rim and finishing. He averaged 8.8 points as a freshman and 8.7 as a sophomore but his shooting was ordinary at best – 40.8 percent and 41.3 percent overall and less than 30 percent on 3-pointers.
“I saw the (defense) sag off me a little bit more,” Stitt said. “They knew that I could get to the rack a little bit better than a lot of other guys. They would back up and I wasn’t ready to shoot it.
“Between my freshman year and sophomore year, and between my sophomore year and junior year, I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked on my jump shot, getting up as many reps as I could.”
The improvement really showed up last season when Stitt averaged 11.4 points, shot 45.4 percent overall and 39.3 percent on 3-pointers. He is maintaining those levels this season, averaging 15.3 points in ACC games while shooting 42.4 percent overall and 40 percent on 3-pointers.
The result is that defenses can’t just play him only for the drive now. If they do, his jump shot is good enough to make them pay.
Stitt has always performed his ball-handling responsibilities well, with 312 career assists to 250 turnovers in his first three seasons. This year, calling upon his senior experience, he has improved his ratio with 79 assists to 43 turnovers in all games and an impressive 47 to 19 in ACC games.
One of the things Brownell changed this season was to have Stitt and Andre Young share the ball. They both start and play a lot of minutes and either can run the offense.
“We’ve tried to let both guys play some point and allowed both guys to play off screens in our motion offense,” Brownell said. “I think it’s been good for Demontez. During the course of the season, he’s gotten better at playing off the ball by not always having to have the ball in his hands to make a play. He’s certainly still very good in transition, he’s a very good finisher around the rim, he draws fouls.”
Stitt hasn’t been bothered by sharing the ball.
“The offense has run pretty smooth,” he said. “We had to get used to the motion offense, screening for each other, and it was a little difficult at first but I think we’re finally starting to come into our own.
“Sharing time with Andre has helped me. I still play at lot at point, but Andre running the one sometimes relieves some of the pressure on me. There’s not too many teams out there that have two point guards that can take the ball up the floor and not worry about turnovers.”
After playing three seasons in former coach Oliver Purnell’s system of pressure defense and set plays on offense, Stitt said he liked Brownell’s motion offense immediately.
“I thought ‘man, I’m going to score a lot,’” he said with a laugh. “We have more freedom than last year, more motion and players making plays for each other. I felt like it was easier to get to the hole, a perfect system for me to play in.”
Stitt’s career has been one of steady improvement and it’s appropriate that it’s paying off in his best statistical season.
“I think he shoots the ball better now,” said the Wolfpack’s Lowe, who added he feels like he’s been facing Stitt for at least five years. “I think the main thing has just been his experience, his confidence. You can see that he has become really the leader of that ball club. I think he’s really the guy that pumps those guys up and gets them going.”
Being a senior has changed Stitt’s perspective on basketball.
“This is your last chance of doing something special, so you realize the importance of the rest of these games,” he said.
And Stitt plans to play those games with the same kind of confidence that has carried him this far.
“I have confidence that I’m one of the best players in the league,” he said, “I feel like I’m proving it this year.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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