PJ Hall almost never made the 60-mile move from all-state player at Dorman High in Spartanburg County to Clemson, where he’ll lead the home state Tigers into the Elite 8 on Saturday night against 4th seeded Alabama.

A top-75 recruit out of high school, Hall nearly followed his older sister Thayer to Florida, where she was an All-American on the Gators’ volleyball team. Hall spent so many weekends in Gainesville with then-Florida coach Mike White and his staff that crystal balls were even lobbed in Florida’s favor on several recruiting websites. Hall loved UF and felt comfortable there much the way his sister Thayer did.

In the end, though, as he told SDS on Friday, he “felt the call of home.”

Brad Brownell was just so persistent, and after months and months, the Clemson coach’s message simply resonated.

“I just told him that the truth is there’s no place like home, nothing better than playing an hour from family and the people that will always love you,” Brownell recalled to SDS at ACC Media Day before this season.

“You can be all-ACC or All-SEC wherever you go. You are that good. You can get drafted. It’s easy to go somewhere they have won national titles and been to all those Final Fours. But you can come to Clemson instead and be the first to lead Clemson to that opportunity. And here we are.”

Here Clemson and Hall are, on the precipice of the program’s first trip to the Final Four.

When Hall takes the floor on Saturday in Los Angeles, he’ll be the best player in orange and white, a First Team All-ACC star who ranks among the top 10 best players left in the field in scoring (18.4 ppg),  effective field goal percentage (54.3%), two point field goal percentage (58%), defensive rebounding rate, fouls drawn per 40 minutes, and turnover rate (a stingy 12%).

It was Hall’s thunderous dunk, on a beautifully designed “BLOB” play out of a timeout, that all but sealed Clemson’s win over 2 seed Arizona on Thursday night, and you can bet if Clemson beats Alabama for a spot in the Final Four on Saturday night, Hall’s performance will play a huge role. The Tigers are a 2.5-point underdog against Alabama, via DraftKings Sportsbook.

The journey to Saturday night’s game of a lifetime has been a circuitous one, filled with 1,688 points, a pair of devastating injuries and months upon months of grueling rehab, and enough losing to make every victory worth savoring.

Hall chose Clemson, but after a rocky freshman season where he scored just 3.5 points and sat behind veteran Aamir Simms, he wasn’t always confident in himself, even if he knew Clemson was the best place for him to be.

“I didn’t think of leaving,” Hall said. “That’s not really my way. But I did doubt myself, which was a new feeling.”

Hall improved dramatically as a sophomore, scoring 15.5 points per game, tripling his rebound production and blocking 1.5 shots per contest. But the team limped to a 17-16 finish, and Hall played the final 2 months with a broken bone is his left foot. After offseason foot surgery, Hall seemed poised for a monstrous junior campaign, but the big man’s knee buckled in a July workout and he played his entire junior campaign much like the end of his sophomore season, hobbled and bogged down by a bad wheel.

Hall finally received a clean bill of health entering his senior campaign, and he felt both joy — and pressure — as a result.

“It’s incredible to have two legs again, I’ll tell you that,” Hall quipped at ACC Media Days, before getting somber and adding, “but that means we need to play better than another NIT.”

The Tigers did just that, barnstorming their way through a challenging nonconference slate to an 11-1 start that included a comeback win on the road over the same Alabama team they’ll play at crypto.com Arena on Saturday night. Hall was the best player in the gym in the first Clemson-Alabama game, scoring 21 points, grabbing 7 rebounds, and blocking 4 shots in leading the Tigers to a Quad 1 win that captured national attention.

“That was the game our team figured out we were pretty good,” Clemson guard Chase Hunter recalled Friday. “It was when we figured out just what we were capable of being.”

For Hall, it was the game he asserted himself as the Tigers’ unquestionable leader.

“PJ is a joy. I’ll get emotional if I talk about him too long, PJ, since November, has been the biggest voice on our team. It’s his passion and will and fiery competitiveness that leads us,” Brownell remembered on Hall’s senior day last month in Clemson.

Hall has always been a guy folks gravitate toward, but the label of fiery competitor hasn’t always applied to him.

There’s a softness to Hall, too, a genuine and impressive empathy that are why, depending on who you ask, you are just as likely to hear from a Clemson fan that Hall is 1 of 5 finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, honoring the nation’s best center, as you are to hear a story about when Hall helped a Duke beat reporter jump his car in the rain in the Littlejohn Coliseum parking lot.

While Hall comes from a family of athletes like his sister Thayer, PJ’s competitive juices took a little longer to fill the tank, or at least that’s the story as Hall himself tells it.

“Thayer — she’s the most competitive in our family by far. You could play miniature golf or a board game and she’d keep score and grind and fight you for a win. Thayer’s a killer competitor. Finding that fire all the time hasn’t come as easy to me. But I’ve found my own fire, in no small part thanks to her. Plenty of it comes from what I’ve been through, too. The injuries. The battle scars make you better.”

The battle scars Hall references aren’t just injuries. They are Clemson teams that didn’t meet expectations and missed the NCAA Tournament, as in his sophomore and junior seasons. They are stories players simply can’t ignore about the coach they love potentially being fired. It becomes hard to ignore, but it shapes you into a player willing to fight for every rebound and loose ball, too.

“The more you go through this kind of thing, the more it prepares you for the next big thing, the next moment of adversity” Hall said. “There’s always going to be something harder to come. So you just have to keep on fighting.”

There were more doubts this season. When Clemson lost 4 of 5 in January, falling out of the ACC regular-season title race and threatening to spoil all the goodwill earned after their tremendous run through the nonconference, it was Hall’s leadership that rang the bell for his teammates.

As suits Hall, he didn’t do it with yelling or cursing, just calm resolve, according to Chase Hunter.

“We had just lost to Georgia Tech at home and PJ just huddled us up after a hard practice and reminded us who we were. He reminded us of where we had already won this year — at Alabama, at Pitt, down double-digits against Davidson, in a hockey arena against TCU. There wasn’t yelling or finger pointing. It was all accountability. Be accountable to yourself. Remember who we can be.”

The Tigers rallied to win 8 of their final 11 league games, including a signature win in February over North Carolina, where they became just the second Clemson team in school history to win in Chapel Hill. Hall was masterful in that game, outplaying eventual ACC Player of the Year RJ Davis with a 25-point, 9-rebound, 3-assist performance that earned him KenPom game MVP honors, just as he earned in Clemson’s win at Alabama.

That win silenced noisier Brownell critics, and ended any discussion of Clemson as a bubble team. Hall heard all that noise, and so did his teammates. How could they not?

“We hear about somebody who we have played for who we know loves us,” Hall remembered this week. “It wears on you. It isn’t fun or easy. So to be able to go on this run is special. We rallied behind that, for sure.”

Against Arizona, Hall rallied the team again, this time in a media timeout after Arizona had erased Clemson’s double-digit lead and put the game in the balance late.

“I just reminded everyone we’d played in more intense environments before. We won at Chapel Hill, were within a point at Duke. We were calm. That speaks to our veterans, too, a lot of older guys in the group. We stayed calm and withstood their runs,” Hall told reporters Thursday night.

With Hall and frontcourt mate and Clemson glue guy Ian Schieffelin leading the way, the Tigers reclaimed the lead and ultimately, the game and another date with Alabama, this time for a trip to the Final Four. When Hall reflects on the journey now, he is appreciative, but not surprised.

“It’s incredible to go through some of the trials and tribulations we have to get where we’re at now. Not just in the season, but over the course of the years. Chase (Hunter) has had injuries. I had had injuries. We’ve had tough seasons, tough losses, and to get where we are now, it is incredibly special to see the fruits of your labor. But we also had a quiet confidence about ourselves. We played some of our best ball down the stretch. People tend to remember our last games, against Notre Dame or a tough loss to Wake. We heard a lot of people talking, saying, we will lose in the first round. We were the first 6 seed underdog, I think. It was a slap in the face. So we had quiet confidence and a chip on our shoulder knowing we can come in here and make some noise,” Hall recalled.

A home-state hero with a chip on his shoulder and a calm resolve? That’s a special thing.

On Saturday night, it might just be special enough to lead Clemson to its first Final Four.

Considering that’s just the opportunity Brad Brownell promised Hall would earn if he chose Clemson, it’s hard to put into words just how incredible that story would be. Knowing PJ Hall’s story though, you can bet he’ll find a way.