Oct. 19, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Momentum, experience, size and an infusion of new talent are just a few of the reasons for South Carolina fans to get excited about the men's basketball team returning to action in November. Gamecock fans have yearned for a return to the glory of when Frank McGuire put South Carolina in the national spotlight in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those who know the game as well as this team, all seem to have that "this should be fun" smile when asked how they think South Carolina will fare on the hardwood in 2015-2016.
"I'm most excited about the fact that there is excitement around the men's basketball team," said former South Carolina captain Carey Rich (1993-95). "I've been a part of the Gamecock family since 1991. I've seen the struggles, and I understand the struggles. I've seen the frustration, the anger and the hurt. This is a team that was very close last year. It didn't have enough offensive fire power and didn't have enough experience or athleticism. They have all of those three things now."
"(Head Coach) Frank Martin has already talked about getting bigger, more athletic, and better point guard play," said former Gamecock and current men's basketball radio analyst Casey Manning. "We have every reason to be excited. We got bigger, better and stronger in one fell swoop."
The Gamecocks went 17-16 overall last year for their first winning season in six years. South Carolina won three straight at the end of the season before falling to Georgia - a team the Gamecocks defeated twice in the regular season and that went on to the NCAA Tournament -- in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. During that stretch, the Gamecocks also defeated Ole Miss, which was also a NCAA Tournament team.
"It's always great to end the season with that type of momentum and some degree of success," Rich said. "It gives fans hope and something to get excited about. Players who were a part of that now understand what it takes to win. There's a psychological advantage that you now have knowing you just beat a NCAA Tournament team in Ole Miss. We know we're good enough."
"The Gamecocks were a whole lot closer (to making the NCAA Tournament) than people may have realized," said Andy Demetra, South Carolina radio play-by-play broadcaster. "They had four wins over teams ranked in the RPI Top 50. Some bubble teams would have killed to have four Top-50 wins. They had the 25th-best non-conference strength of schedule in the nation according to the NCAA, and they easily had the toughest draw in the SEC. South Carolina was the only team that had to play the first-, second- and third-place teams twice (Kentucky, Arkansas, Georgia), and it had to play the fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-place teams on the road. They were so racked by injuries during SEC play, they sometimes only had seven healthy players for practice. And yet they still finished with a winning record."
"Sindarius Thornwell is healthy again," Demetra said. "People don't realize how balky his knees had gotten by the end of last year. Statistically, he had the best season by a South Carolina freshman (in 2013-14) since BJ McKie. I look forward to seeing a healthy, motivated Thornwell again."
"Thornwell was always an SEC player," Rich said. "Notice has made himself into a quality SEC player. He's ready to play now. He's more confident now and knows he is good enough to play at this level. Thornwell wasn't healthy last year. He's healthy this year. He's hungry. He's motivated. Some people might have written him off because he labored to get up and down the floor because he was hurt. He just lost his uncle recently who was a big part of his life and was a father figure for him."
Also included in that nucleus of returning players are senior forwards Laimonas Chatkevicius, Mindaugas Kacinas and the ever-hustling Michael Carrera along with sophomore guard Marcus Stroman and redshirt freshman TeMarcus Blanton who missed last year with an injury.
"Thornwell doesn't have to score all the time, and he doesn't have to do everything anymore," Manning said. "He has plenty of help now. Chatkevicius had some brilliant moments last year. I expect him to be steadier. Marcus Stroman was so good with the ball at times last year, and I expect him to be even better."
"Carerra is going to be huge for this Gamecock team," Rich said. "He is a bona fide effort guy. I think he is the `gut' of that team. He sets the tone when it comes to effort and how Frank wants his guys to play. Marcus Stroman made tremendous strides from his freshman to his sophomore year. He's always been a tenacious defender. I can't wait to see him and (freshman) PJ (Dozier) and Sindarius in a backcourt together. You're talking about three guys who have tremendously high basketball IQs."
We have every reason to be excited. We got bigger, better and stronger in one fell swoop.
New Talent...and Size!
Frank Martin signed the best recruiting class he has had since coming to Columbia four years ago, highlighted by 6'7" McDonald's High School All-American PJ Dozier, fellow guards Chris Silva, Jamall Gregory, and John Ragin, along with forwards Raymond Doby, Eric Cobb and transfer Jarrell Holliman. While there is always an adjustment period for freshmen, these rookies can make an impact.
"I have my finger on the pulse of the recruiting in this area," Rich said. "Out of everybody that has come out of Columbia the last few years, Dozier is truly the only guy that could have gone anywhere in the country to play. He will bring something to South Carolina that we haven't seen in decades from a presence and skill set position. A 6'7" point guard that can legitimately play the point with a very high basketball IQ and a tremendous feel for the game. He's an unselfish guy, and most importantly, even though he is a freshman, he has the ability to create a shot for himself or get a shot for one of his teammates. I don't think people really understand the type of player we have in PJ Dozier. He'll have a major impact as a freshman, and Silva will be on everybody's highlight reel, whether he's dunking on somebody or blocking a shot."
"Chris Silva is one of the freakiest athletic specimens Gamecock fans will have seen in a while," Demetra said. "His hands are the size of waffle irons. When he dunks, he assaults the rim like it owes him money. He's still raw, but he'll make some athletic plays this year that will wow people."
"Everyone is going to be so excited about Chris Silva," Manning added. "He's a big time athlete. He's 6'9". He can block shots. He's a dunker. He can make a 15-foot spot-up jump shot. He plays with a very high motor. Eric Cobb is 6'9" and is a skilled post player. He's going to be a player. He can play both forward positions. He can post up. He's an offensive rebounder, and he can run the floor really well."
"Raymond Doby is under the radar," Rich continued. "He brings an inner-city (East Saint Louis) toughness to the program. He's not afraid of a challenge. He's the kind of guy that can impact the game without having a play called for him. He's good enough to play with his back to the basket, and he can face up and make the jump shot."
"Even from a preparation standpoint this team is better," Rich said. "Now you have guys who are good enough in practice to get you ready for the game. Now they go from being one of the youngest teams to one of the most experienced teams with good young players. Every guy who signed to play at South Carolina this year had multiple offers from BCS schools."
Having that mix of experience with talented newcomers will also help take pressure off those individuals.
"The juniors and seniors have been through it," Rich said. "They were very close last year. The experience that those guys bring back will make it a little bit easier for those guys to transition. PJ Dozier won't have to carry the load like Sindarius Thornwell did as a freshman. They make each other better."
"The postseason is a realistic expectation for this team," Rich said. "This staff won a lot of games before they got here. They just needed to do the construction of building this program. We finally have a team of guys that are SEC caliber players. What I love about Frank is that he wants fans to expect that. He knows what it takes to win. The key is getting off to a good start from a confidence perspective."
"I think we can have 20+ wins this year," Manning said. "I really do. Everybody else is getting better too. The goal is to get to the big dance -- the NCAA Tournament. Does that mean we'll automatically win 20? Of course not, but it's exciting that we have so much to look forward to."
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