You are here

More time to blossom

Rule change permits Jaron Blossomgame to work out for NBA teams, return to school

Clemson men’s basketball coach Brad Brownell (left) and Jaron Blossomgame at a May 25 news conference where Blossomgame announced his intent to return to Clemson. JUSTIN PONDEXTER, CLEMSON ATHLETICS

Two uncertain months ended with a hug.

On May 25, when Jaron Blossomgame, a Clemson University forward who averaged just shy of 19 points and seven rebounds last season, told Tigers coach Brad Brownell that he would be returning for his final year of eligibility, Brownell wrapped his arms around his star player.  

That moment was made possible by a recent rule change that permitted Blossomgame and other players around the country to have workouts and interviews with NBA teams and attend the NBA combine. Blossomgame took full advantage, visiting seven teams and testing his skills alongside college basketball luminaries such as Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine at the NBA combine in May.

“Honestly, I think I would have left without this rule,” Blossomgame said. “It’s very tough to go out there and see a kid declare and then end up going undrafted. I think this rule kind of eliminates that because players will get out there and get accurate feedback – I think that’s the most important thing.”

The 2016 Atlantic Coast Conference Most Improved Player and first-team all-conference selection declared for the draft in March. By May, he was jetting across the country by himself for high-pressure workouts and job interviews. On one trip, he bounced from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to San Antonio to Phoenix. He battled nerves before his first visit – Utah – and learned to grow comfortable holding court with league executives and coaches. Clemson assistant coach Steve Smith offered counsel through the process; through it all, Blossomgame said Smith encouraged him to make the best decision for him and his family, not for Clemson.  

Blossomgame, who was projected by many to be selected in the draft’s late first or early second round, learned he could hold his own against the nation’s elite players at the NBA combine. While he was pleased with his performance – Blossomgame scored 27 points and snatched 15 rebounds across two scrimmages – and NBA talent evaluators assured him he would be selected in June’s draft, he ultimately decided to return to Clemson, refine his game and bolster his chances to be selected earlier in 2017.  

Executives said he needed to improve on his ability to push the ball in transition and read the court on fast breaks, becoming a more well-rounded forward like Golden State’s Draymond Green. Getting honest feedback like that from so many people around the NBA proved invaluable, Blossomgame said.

He will graduate in August and will take graduate school classes in Clemson’s Athletic Leadership program. Beyond trying to improve his own game, his main impetus for returning is to guide Clemson to the NCAA tournament. The Tigers haven’t been there since 2011 and he wants he and his teammates to experience that thrill before he embarks on a professional career. He has returned from two pressure-laden months with more experience and more confidence, which he hopes will rub off on his teammates when the calendar flips to March.

“Making the tournament would be a big deal for me,” he said. “I do think I made the right decision by coming back and solidifying myself for next year.”