South Carolina blending upperclassmen, newcomers once again
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Another year, another round of changes for the South Carolina men's basketball team.
The Gamecocks enter this season with five newcomers, including McDonald's All-America selection P.J. Dozier. This marks the third year in his four at South Carolina that coach Frank Martin will have to blend a large group of young players with his veterans in a fight to get to the top of the Southeastern Conference.
''You guys have heard me say this before, `Fans love freshmen. Coaches love upperclassmen,' " Martin said. ''That doesn't mean that we dislike the freshmen, no. We think those guys are going to be great.''
Martin has gained much experience the past few seasons at combining veterans and youth.
Before the 2013-14 season, the Gamecocks saw four veteran holdovers from former coach Darrin Horn transfer as Martin and his staff brought in seven new players. Two of those seven players left after their first year with the Gamecocks in 2014 as Martin added four new roster members.
This past offseason brought three more transfers, including the exit of starting forward Demetrius Henry. Henry and forward Shamiek Sheppard were suspended from mid-February through the end of the season. Sheppard also transferred along with seldom-used guard Reggie Theus Jr.
That means the returning players again must help teach the younger ones how to navigate major college basketball, junior guard Duane Notice said Tuesday.
''It's kind of difficult for me because before I came here I'd never really been in a situation like this,'' said Notice, who averaged a team-high 11.7 points per game last season. ''But it's building character. It's building my character. It's building our character. It's just adversity in the fact that we keep going through these growing pains, at the end of the day, we're going to have a successful season.''
Notice and his teammates found their stride at the end of the season, winning four of their final six games. South Carolina finished 17-16 for its first winning season since 2008-09.
Notice said the upperclassmen have so far mixed well with the younger guys. The Gamecocks have been participating in a community outreach effort since Friday, with Notice and four first-year players visiting the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center about five miles from campus.
The players handed out hats to veterans rehabbing injuries at the center. One asked Notice if this group might match some accomplishments achieved by the late coach Frank McGuire, whose teams made a school-best four straight NCAA tournament trips from 1971-74. South Carolina has made just four NCAA tournaments since, the last coming in 2004.
To end that drought this season, Martin will have to rely on his veterans. Along with Notice, smooth-scoring guard Sindarius Thornwell is a junior. The front line of center Laimonas Chatkevicius and forwards Michael Carrera and Mindaugas Kacinas are all seniors.
Martin is proud of how his returning players have shown the newer ones during summer workouts how things are done.
''When you couple that with a group of freshman that we think is the most talented that we've recruited, as a coach, you tend to sleep a little better,'' Martin said. ''You're starting to have the ingredients you need to succeed.''
Martin also will need contributions from his freshmen. Dozier, who also had offers from Georgetown, Louisville, North Carolina and Michigan, is considered the difference maker in the new group. Forwards Eric Cobb (6-foot-10), Chris Silva (6-9) and Raymond Doby (6-7) all give South Carolina the additional size Martin has sought since he arrived. The Gamecocks also have added freshman guard Jamall Gregory.
Notice is confident the Gamecocks have the winning mix ready to compete this winter.
''We hold everybody accountable,'' Notice said. ''I think that's the biggest thing this upcoming season.''