Yet there was Brian Richardson, alone with manager Bubba Wright, bounding around the halfcourt. All the shooting drills he and his teammates had done over the last hour still hadn't satisfied the junior guard. Richardson wasn't leaving until he made 10 baskets from six different spots around the three-point arc.
At this point, why would he want to stop?
Midway through the season, the 6'4" guard from Wilson, N.C., has enjoyed a career year, averaging 8.3 points on 43% three-point shooting for the Gamecocks (9-3, 0-0 SEC). Last Saturday, making his first start of the season against Presbyterian, he nearly equaled a career high with 16 points. More importantly, he has begun to shed his reputation as a player who struggled to find a "Plan B" if his shots weren't dropping.
"I feel like I'm playing at a high level," Richardson said after practice.
"Brian's been awesome," head coach Frank Martin said on Thursday's "Carolina Calls." "In the beginning with Brian, everything was about getting him to believe that he could do these things. That was a challenge, just getting him to play with courage and energy, and that confidence that guys who those traits play with."
"He told me that he's going to play players that he trusts," Richardson said. "I'm not just an outside shooter; I can do multiple things. And I have to do that to open my game up."
Laid-back off the court, Richardson dedicated himself to Martin's message. He also benefitted from some liberating shooting advice from his new head coach.
"I told Brian like all the other guys: I'm not going to take you out for making a physical mistake. But if you've got an open shot, and that's a shot you've proven you can make, and you don't shoot, I will take you out.
"I don't know if that's helped him or not, but he's playing confidently right now," Martin said.
The numbers suggest it has. Richardson only averaged 27% from three-point range as a freshman and sophomore, a lackluster percentage for a volume-shooting guard. Halfway through this season, his average has jumped to 43%.
More impressively, Richardson has used his fluid, oily-jointed athleticism to get to the rim.
Brian Richardson 2-point FGM
Freshman Year: 12 (30 games)
Sophomore Year: 15 (25 games)
Junior Year: 13 (12 games)
Not surprisingly, that confidence has spread virally to other parts of the floor. His physical gifts no longer hidden in a standstill shooter's game, Richardson has become a more complete player in his junior season. He needed all of five games to surpass his block (1) and assist (10) totals from last year. He's rebounding at a career rate (2.7 rpg), which allowed Martin to make the previously unheard-of move of starting Richardson at small forward against Presbyterian.
And with SEC play around the corner, Martin says Richardson can make just as big an impact on the defensive end.
"He understands our defensive concepts better than any guard on our team. With his length and athleticism, he can create some problems for people defensively," he said.
"I think he's starting to believe it."
Richardson is turning plenty of other people into believers, too.
More notes as the Gamecocks head toward their final non-conference game against South Carolina State (1:30 p.m. EST Saturday, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):
Battling It Out: With Michael Carrera bothered by a left hip injury, freshman Mindaugas Kacinas returned to the starting lineup against Presbyterian. Kacinas responded with a 13-point, 3-rebound effort to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
"Michael plays a very physical, emotional game. Mindaugas having to deal with that physicality and that emotion every day in practice has made him better prepared to deal with it in real games.
"Mindaugas' skill level is understanding how to play on offense where he plays a little slower. He tries not to get sped up. It's helped Michael tone down that energy and enthusiasm. They kind of learn off each other," Martin said.
With Carrera still sidelined, Kacinas' play at the "4" will be even more critical. Though not as tenacious a rebounder as Carrera, he's a cagey, capable passer from the high post, and can stretch out opposing power forwards on the perimeter.
Stone Cold: In the first 35:00 of game time, Kacinas shoots 58% from the foul line. In the final five minutes of regulation and overtime, his percentage spikes to 83%.
40:00-35:00 11-19 57.9%
5:00-0:00 (incl. OT) 10-12 83.3%
A Note On Turnovers: South Carolina hasn't fully cleansed itself of its turnover problem - the Gamecocks are still averaging 18 per game - but Brenton Williams has done his best to lower that count. Despite handling the ball often, Williams, the Gamecocks' leading scorer (13.0 ppg) has only committed 1 turnover in the last 91:07 of game time.
Martin also hailed Eric Smith's improvement during the Gamecocks' semester-break practice.
"We didn't have the practice time to get him to make corrections. We tried to show him film, but you always have to prepare for the next game," Martin said.
The numbers bear that out. Look at Martin's assist-to-turnover count both before and during exams.
Eric Smith Assist/TO Ratio
Before exams: 24 23
After exams: 24 11
And Finally.... Among those who attended South Carolina's game against Manhattan at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was former Gamecock great Jim Graziano. A 6'9" center from Farmingdale, Long Island, Graziano was one of the nation's most sought-after prospects when the Gamecocks signed him in 1977. To convince Graziano to come to South Carolina, head coach Frank McGuire had to win a heated recruiting battle with.... Frank Sinatra?
Legend has it that Sinatra, a friend of UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian, volunteered to help in Graziano's recruitment. Ol' Blue Eyes even placed a call to Graziano's home, making a recruiting pitch on UNLV's behalf.
Our pre-game coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. EST Saturday on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. See you at Colonial Life Arena. -AD--