CLEMSON, S.C. -- Sean Tyson has had his share of disappointments and distractions in five years at Clemson University, but apparently not enough to derail his ultimate goal: graduating.
Tyson, the last Atlantic Coast Conference basketball player not to meet Proposition 48 guidelines, is in line to get his degree in tourism and travel this spring. "My personal highlight," Tyson calls the event.
Considering the athletic promise he displayed coming out of Dunbar High School, and the academic question marks that surrounded him, it is ironic that Tyson has achieved more in the classroom than on the basketball court.
It is also perplexing.
"My whole career here has been star-crossed," said Tyson. "But I think Clemson was a good choice for me. We've had a lot of success, and it's thrust everyone in the spotlight at one time or another."
The success hasn't come this season, for either the Tigers or Tyson. But the spotlight -- albeit an unwanted one -- has come and gone for the 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward from Baltimore.
Clemson (9-11, 0-5) has lost five straight going into tonight's 7:30 game against Maryland (12-8, 2-5) at Littlejohn Coliseum, and is threatening to become the only team in league history to go from first to worst in successive years.
It was expected that Tyson would play a major role -- especially with the departure of center Elden Campbell to the pros and the eligibility problems of Wayne Buckingham -- but that hasn't happened. Tyson has started once in 17 games and was suspended for three games after getting into a dormitory-room altercation with teammate Donnell Bruce.
"It hasn't been as frustrating a year as some might think," said Tyson, who is averaging 9.5 points and 4.9 rebounds in a little more than 20 minutes a game. "I did expect to be a starter and take on a large share of the leadership, so I guess it's had its points [of frustration]."
Clemson coach Cliff Ellis has maintained for most of the past two years that Tyson is more effective coming off the bench than as a starter. Even though the Tigers don't have anyone to take the load off center Dale Davis, Ellis still believes this to be true.
"Sean's been one of those players who's like a streak hitter in baseball," Ellis said yesterday. "When he's hot, he's hot. But he gets too frustrated if he's not playing well, more so than anyone on our ballclub. He's a hot-cold type of player."
That could describe the relationship between Tyson and Ellis. When Tyson was sitting out his first year because of Proposition 48, Ellis was the first to encourage him about his academics. And when Tyson was hospitalized two years ago after having his gallbladder removed, he said, Ellis visited him nearly every day.
But some off-court indiscretions by Tyson have brought about a strain in the relationship. Late in his freshman year, Tyson and Campbell were caught selling complimentary tickets to home games, a violation of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. While Campbell, the team's blossoming star, received a two-game suspension, Tyson was sidelined for the season.
Then came the incident in December, when according to athletic department personnel and sources close to Tyson, he and Bruce got into a fight in their doom room. After apologizing to the team and agreeing to seek counseling, Tyson was reinstated before an 81-65 loss at Maryland Jan. 5.
Ellis has declined to talk about either the incident or the suspension, and Tyson wants to put the incident behind him.
But others won't let it go. Carolyn Hill, Tyson's mother, said yesterday: "He's gotten some unfair treatment as far as I'm concerned. . . . I hate to say it's a personal thing, but I'm not sure it isn't. I couldn't believe the measures the coach took."
Tyson said: "I think my relationship with Coach Ellis is good. Anyone who says there is any animosity between us is wrong. A lot of times, people see I'm not playing and think we're not getting along. But a lot of me not playing had to do with the fact that I played the same positions as Elden, Dale and Jerry [Pryor]."
But those who know Tyson say that he is just trying to be diplomatic, quietly biding his time until graduation, hoping that he still has a shot at the pros.
"He hasn't been used the way he should have been," said Leon bTC Howard, who coached Tyson for seven years at the Lafayette Courts recreation league. "At the end of last year, he put up some pretty strong numbers. I think it's been kind of difficult for him."
Hill believes that her son will benefit from his experiences at Clemson. "One thing about Sean is that he won't give up," Hill said. "He's a strong man. He'll mature because of this. I won't have to worry about him."
Tyson, too, said that he has grown dramatically during his five years at Clemson. Though he still dreams of playing in the National Basketball Association -- as his best friend, Kurk Lee, is doing -- he understands that he will have gained something even more valuable than a few more rebounds and points: a degree.
"I'm very proud of that," he said.