If Darrin Horn needed another reminder of the program-building still to be done, he got it as he sat at his table during Thursday's SEC media days.
The South Carolina coach sat almost alone for the final half of his hour-long appearance. Across the room, the media stayed in a throng around Florida coach Billy Donovan, whose team finished behind Horn's last year and is picked to do so again this season.
A few minutes earlier, Horn had said Florida was being overlooked in preseason predictions. It was pointed out to Horn that at that moment, Donovan and the Gators were far from overlooked.
"That's because there's a Hall of Famer in there," Horn said.
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Donovan is not in the Hall yet, but Horn's statement will probably be true someday. Horn, meanwhile, is just entering his second year at USC.
As he does so, it comes with a strange dichotomy. The Gamecocks boast one of the SEC's best players and return four starters.
And yet they were picked by the media to finish fourth in the SEC East, after tying for first last season.
Senior point guard Devan Downey was asked Thursday about the perceived slight.
"You can use it as a motivation," Downey said. "When it first happened, like I told the team, we can't control it. Where we're picked and things like that we can't control. But we can control how we respond and how we work to prove people wrong."
Still, the reason for picking the Gamecocks lower has more to do with the rest of the league getting better. That was the overriding theme as the league's 12 coaches had their say in front of the media.
The consensus was that the Eastern division could finish in any order. Horn agreed with that, which is all the more reason his team needed to avoid complacency.
"I think the challenge of a second year when you have a first year like we had, which is where you do better than people think, is not to think you have it all figured out, we're just gonna show up like we did last year and everything's gonna be OK," Horn said. "Because most importantly it doesn't work that way, but I think the other part is that the league has improved, everybody else is getting better as well."
The Gamecocks went 21-10 last year, tying Tennessee for first place in the East. But it missed the NCAA tournament, in a year the SEC received three bids.
In retrospect, Horn appeared to agree with the selection committee's decision.
"We didn't win enough of the games that we needed to win to get in. You look at that deal, and they've got it down to a pretty good science," Horn said. "The opportunities that we did have we didn't come through on. Then when you look at what happened with the league and the number of bids they got, yeah we didn't win enough of the right games."
Things at least went well for South Carolina in the offseason, as Downey and forward Dominique Archie opted to return for their senior years after exploring the NBA draft.
The return of Downey, a two-time first-team All-SEC pick, was what Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl latched on to as he predicted USC to be a tough out.
"He's a really, really tough matchup," Pearl said. "So when you've got your quarterback back like that, who's so quick, who's so fast. South Carolina will be in every game. And some teams won't match up with South Carolina because they'll spread it and they'll shoot it and they'll press you and they'll make you go faster than you want to go. And South Carolina's team this year looks like mine the first couple years the way they're built and the way they play."
Pearl has gone to the NCAA tournament each of his first four years. USC was last there in 2004, and hasn't won a game in it since 1973.
"As a program, we've only spent one year laying a foundation for what we want to do," Horn said. "To get to the level that we really want to be at, not just winning, but as a program, that's going to take some time. So we've got to come back this year and continue to lay some bricks."