Jan. 8, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
South Carolina freshmen TeMarcus Blanton, Shamiek Sheppard, and Marcus Stroman grew up in three different states. They have different personalities. They've only known each other for a few months. Although the trio has yet to get on the floor together at the same time due to injuries, there is already a bond which developed right away for Coach Frank Martin's young Gamecocks.
"It's a brotherhood on and off the court," Stroman said.
Stroman was in the Gamecocks' back yard, hailing from Columbia, while Blanton came to South Carolina from Locust Grove, Georgia, and Sheppard made the furthest trek from Brooklyn, New York. The three now live together on campus. All three were expected to make an impact on the court as freshmen, but preseason injuries requiring surgery for Blanton and Sheppard forced Stroman to shoulder the load for the rookies in the early part of the season.
"The injury had a real negative effect on me," Blanton said about having hip surgery in October. "Two weeks before our first game, I was excited about playing in my first D-1 basketball game, and out of nowhere I came down with an injury. It ruined my year, but I'm being more positive now. Rehab is going well. For now I need to get our guys pumped and juiced for the game and be a positive influence."
"At first it was hard for me," Sheppard said of his knee injury this fall. "But as I felt myself progressing through rehab, I just felt like God had a plan for me. I just have to keep working hard. Rehab is going great. When I'm not playing, my role is to be our team's biggest fan and encourage and support them as much as I can."
Sheppard's progression and hard work through rehab allowed him to get back on the court in January so he could put his skills to work. Preseason injuries weren't the only obstacles Sheppard and Blanton had to overcome. Blanton survived a fire which burned his house down when he was in middle school.
"It happened when I was asleep," Blanton said. "Fortunately nobody was hurt. Our neighbor was able to come save me and my little sister. We were still asleep. I try not to think about it. I'm happy where I am today with basketball taking me as far as I am right now."
"I came here because of Frank Martin. What I like most about him is that he is passionate about the game. He wants to see everybody do well. He wants the whole team to progress."
Sheppard had committed to another school coming out of high school, but his grades kept him from enrolling so he went to military school for one year which inspired him to get good grades so he wouldn't miss out on his dream of playing college basketball.
"The good thing is that it taught me some discipline," Sheppard said. "The bad thing was waking up every day at five in the morning, making your bed right away and then standing outside in the cold and having to march."
Stroman has played in every game for the Gamecocks so far and leads the team in assists. Each of the rookies is quick to note that time management is one of the biggest adjustments off the court, while keeping up with the pace is a challenge on the court.
"The speed of the game is the biggest difference on the court," Blanton said. "When I first came here, I was playing a little too fast. I needed to settle down and take time to process everything. As I continued practicing, I learned how to slow things down mentally. I need to keep developing my skills and develop my ball handling more. I need to keep working on my jump shot."
Each has a particular skill set to offer the Gamecocks, but they share similar reasons for bringing those talents to South Carolina.
"I chose South Carolina because it was close to home, and because of Frank Martin," Stroman said. "I wanted to play for him. He brings passion every day. He doesn't let anybody slack, no matter who you are. He wants the best out of everybody."
"I came here because of Frank Martin," Sheppard said. ""What I like most about him is that he is passionate about the game. He wants to see everybody do well. He wants the whole team to progress. I've had passionate coaches all of my life. Every passionate coach I've ever had always brought the best out of me, so I wanted him to bring the best out of me at this level."
"Frank Martin just a great person as a whole," Blanton added. "On the court and off the court, he wants to see the best out of you. He wants you to go hard on the court, and he wants you to go hard off the court in school and make good grades. It's amazing how much he wants us all to achieve. He's building a team and I feel like we can be the foundation, so I wanted to be part of it, and it's close to home."
Side by side, Blanton oozes confidence and takes pride in being the first one at his high school to score more than 1,000 career points, while Sheppard laughs about accidentally breaking a rim and shattering the backboard on a dunk during his junior year. Stroman deadpans and is more self-deprecating.
"In the eighth grade, I played on the varsity, and I was on a fast break all by myself," Stroman said. "I laid the ball up, and I missed! I came right out of the game after that."
The three freshmen are unanimous in how much the atmosphere and support of Gamecock fans have made an impression on them in their first year on campus.
"The best part about being a Gamecock is being with the Gamecock people," Blanton said. "I never felt so much love until I came here. Everyone around here is so supportive. Everyone is trying to help you do your best. I just love it here."
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