The day after he was hired 18 months ago, USC men's basketball coach Darrin Horn was on the recruiting trail, targeting the 2010 recruiting class.
Horn knew he would have five seniors leaving after the 2009-10 season. Hitting the trail early came to fruition Wednesday, as five letters-of-intent arrived on the first day of the fall signing period.
"We are thrilled with our recruiting class, and that might be an understatement," Horn said. "We think this is a special class."
The class is ranked 10th by Scout.com and 12th by Rivals.com, pending the spring signing period. It includes three instate players and center Damontre Harris ranked by Scout.com as one of the top 50 players in the class.
Never miss a local story.
The class also has two point guards, both under 6-foot, who were signed to replace current senior guard Devan Downey.
One of those is Eric Smith, who Horn targeted first after he was hired in April 2008. Smith became Horn's first instate commitment, though he is spending his senior year at Christ School in Arden, N.C.
"(Smith) has a body and athleticism and a game that we think is gonna fit really well with what we do," Horn said.
Bruce Ellington is the other point guard prospect. The 5-foot-10 senior at Berkeley High School also is a football prospect, but has said he is committed to basketball.
Ellington's stock exploded last summer, and he is rated as the nation's 12th-best point guard by Scout.com. Horn called him a "special, special athlete" who will "quickly establish himself as a guy who can really do some special things."
Brian Richardson, a 6-foot-5 wing, gives the team a shooter as well as the length and athleticism that Horn loves. Fort Dorchester's R.J. Slawson is rated as a power forward, but Horn thinks the 6-foot-8, 190-pounder will be more of a perimeter player who will float to the post.
"We think R.J. is a rare guy that has terrific perimeter skills and would be more of a small forward, a big small forward that can play inside as well," Horn said.
Then there is Harris, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound center. Horn said Harris was the only big man the Gamecocks targeted for this class, and may have the most long-range potential of any of the signees.
"It's a great mix of exactly the kind of guys that we want at each position as we build our program," Horn said.
Baniulis questionable. The Gamecocks are waiting to see if they have a full roster for Friday's season opener against Alabama A&M. Evka Baniulis, who missed last week's exhibition game with a hamstring injury, was cleared to practice Wednesday. If he has a full practice on Thursday, he should be available for Friday, according to Horn.