- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - Clemson coach Audra Smith is prepared for more growing pains in her second season with the Tigers.

A year ago, players struggled at times to adjust to Smith’s energetic, intense coaching style and her insistence on full-out defense. This time, Smith’s roster of 14 includes nine freshmen trying to blend into the Tigers’ system.

“These kids are very bright, high basketball IQ, very energetic kids, fun-loving and they love the game,” Smith said. “So it’s been easy in that aspect” of blending with the team.

Smith believes the transition has gone well because her newcomers are players who want to be coached hard and will put in the work to succeed. She saw a taste of that this offseason when Smith walked in for individual workouts and saw three players putting in extra time on their own working on drills they’d just learned from coaches.

“That’s so refreshing for me,” Smith said. “To have kids willing to go the extra mile and work outside of practice.”

Smith is hoping to build on several moments from her first season when the Tigers went 13-19 overall, an increase of four wins from a year earlier. The biggest came in March as Clemson snapped a five-year losing streak in Atlantic Coast Conference tournament play with an opening round win over Virginia Tech.

With so many newcomers, Smith understands they’ll have to get adjusted quickly to major college basketball. Smith will rely on her five returnees to bring the first-year players up to speed on the difficulty of ACC play.

“Once they get these nonconference games under their belt and they get comfortable,” Smith said. “I think they’ll be fine.”

Where Smith won’t have so many worries is the backcourt where high-scoring senior Nikki Dixon and junior point guard Chelsea Lindsay return. Dixon, selected by league coaches on the preseason All-ACC team, led Clemson with 13.7 points a game. Lindsay was the only one of Smith’s squad to average more than 30 minutes a game a year ago.

Dixon said changing coaches last season was difficult and discovering Smith’s expectations was just as hard.

“Once you’ve adjusted to a coaching philosophy it is hard to adjust fast and quick to something new,” Dixon said. For me personally, I knew time wasn’t stopping for me. I had to quickly figure out what this set of coaches needed from me and what this group of coaches wanted from me.”

Lindsay said once the players accepted Smith’s drive to succeed, things became easier. “So whatever they throw at me, I’ll take it,” she said.

Smith played on three Final Four teams and won two ACC championships at Virginia from 1989-92, a club led by current South Carolina coach Dawn Staley. Smith hopes to lead the Tigers to similar success during her time there and understands the foundation that must be laid to get that done.

Four of Clemson’s first-year players are 6-foot or taller, including 6-foot-4 McKayla Johnson of Columbia and 6-4 Justice Wright, the daughter of former Clemson men’s basketball standout Shrone Wright.

Despite getting picked to finish 14th of 15 ACC teams this season, Smith thinks the additions will quicken the improvements she saw from the Tigers a year ago.

“There are games we did a really good job, that we competed in,” she said. “We had a couple of miscues here and there, but overall, I believe we set that precedent.”

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