COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Frank Martin believes the bumps in the road the Gamecocks have endured trying to build a consistent winner are coming to an end.
In Martin's fourth season, he sees depth, experience and more than enough talented players to move up in the Southeastern Conference and challenge for the NCAA tournament.
''You guys have sat for three years and listened to me complain about leadership, personality, all those things,'' Martin said. ''There's nothing to complain about when it comes to that right now.''
The transformation, while not as quick as some might have hoped for, took flight this fall, Martin said.
The Gamecocks' core upperclassmen understand Martin's style and schemes and are unafraid to teach that to possibly more talented newcomers who might steal some of their minutes.
''Our guys are not concerned with jobs and who's playing and not playing,'' Martin said. ''They're consumed with winning and winning beyond the years that they're here. So it's real fun to be around.''
Things have not always been fun for Martin or South Carolina basketball. The Gamecocks went eight seasons from 2006-07 through 2013-14 with just one winning record. Martin was 28-38 his first two seasons, shuffling up his roster after both seasons.
The Gamecocks, though, won four of their final six games to finish 17-16.
South Carolina is shooting for its first NCAA tournament since 2003-04, a drought of 12 seasons
''I would say this is probably going to be the best year that we've had'' under Martin, forward Michael Carrera said.
Things to watch for with South Carolina basketball:
THORNWELL'S KNEES: South Carolina junior Sindarius Thornwell played last season with tendinitis in his knees, changing his game from the driver-slasher he was two years ago when he made the SEC all-freshman team to a much-less comfortable jump shooter. Thornwell had injections in his knees this offseason to ease the condition and says he's got his spring back.
P.J. TIME: Many of the Gamecocks hopes rest on freshman guard P.J. Dozier, the first McDonald's All-American signed in Martin's four seasons. The 6-foot-6 Dozier plays the point and will be expected to make a significant and quick impact on the court.
TAKING NOTICE: South Carolina guard Duane Notice, a junior, should be one of the prime beneficiaries of Dozier's addition. Notice was the team's leading scorer at 11.7 points a game last year, but spent some time the past two seasons at point guard, a less comfortable spot. Notice will concentrate on scoring this season, Martin said.
BEEFED UP LINE: The Gamecocks also expect to get a boost up front from 6-9 freshmen Eric Cobb and Chris Silva. Their additions give South Carolina a solid rotation up front, Martin believes, with returners Laimonas Chatkevicius, Mindaugas Kacinas and Michael Carrera. At 6-5, he was forced to play closer to the post against much bigger men because the Gamecocks didn't have other options. He's glad to see things have changed. ''Now, I can play the three (small forward)'' position, Carrera said. ''That's what I like.''
CALMER MARTIN? The coach known for his ''Death Glare'' and, at times, harsh language on the bench, sounds positively relaxed this preseason. Mostly because, he says, he finally can count on his upperclassmen to speed up the learning curve for younger players. ''That core group of guys has been through it all in the last couple of years and none of us have flinched,'' Martin said. ''That builds an unbelievable amount of trust in us for each other. When you have a group of guys like that you tend to sleep better at night.''