The up-and-down USC career of Mike Holmes came to an end on the first day of the new year.
The junior forward was dismissed from the team for repeated violations of team rules. That left the Bishopville native looking for a new home, and USC dealing with the loss of a second key player this season.
USC coach Darrin Horn said Holmes was "repeatedly unable" to reach a "standard and basic level of expectations" that are set for any player or coach on the team.
Multiple sources said Holmes had a physical altercation in the locker room with a teammate last week.
Holmes averaged 11 points and 4.8 rebounds in six games this season. He sat out the past six after sustaining what the team said was an eye injury while "horsing around" (Horn's words) in Bishopville.
Since then, Holmes had not attended any of the team's games, even as teammate Dominique Archie sat on the bench every game since injuring his knee against Miami on Nov. 22. Archie was ruled out for the season on Dec. 21.
Horn said Holmes' dismissal was unrelated to his eye injury. Attempts to reach Holmes were unsuccessful.
"It wasn't one particular thing. It was just over a period of time. The details of that are obviously a team issue and an internal matter. And we're not going to talk about individuals publicly," Horn said. "The bottom line is he can still pursue playing and education. He's in shape to do that. He's gonna do it somewhere else, and we're gonna do anything we can to help with that."
Horn met with Holmes on Friday morning then spoke to his remaining players; the Gamecocks play host to Baylor today.
The 6-foot-7 Holmes led the Gamecocks in rebounding last season and had six double-doubles, averaging 10.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. As a freshman, he averaged 8.5 points and 5.7 rebounds and was named to the SEC coaches' all-freshman team.
As recently as two weeks ago, the Gamecocks had hoped to have Holmes and Archie back this season.
"It puts some finality on it. You know Dominique's not coming back for injury and Mike's not coming back at all," Horn said. "And now we know exactly where we stand and what we're working with. Maybe in some ways it'll help clarify for our guys what we need to continue to do to help us win games."
Holmes has had disciplinary issues before. He was suspended from the first exhibition game of his sophomore season and was benched for two other games.
Horn said the decision to let Holmes go was "really hard personally." This is the second time he has dismissed a player at USC, the first being Chad Gray, a month after Horn was hired in April 2008.
Holmes also becomes the third instate player to be dismissed from the program in as many years. Gray, now at Coastal Carolina, was from Kingstree. Former Lower Richland star Mike Jones was kicked off the team in May 2007 before playing a game.
"The individual ends up making a decision (to continually not adhere to the rules) after multiple chances to do what we do," Horn said. "Whether you're a boss or whatever, ultimately they have to make the call and move it forward. It's hard. It is; it's hard. It's one of those things that's tough about what we (coaches) do.
"But at any point, when it affects the overall program, we're always going to do what's in the best interests of our players. And sometimes that means making a decision that's in the best interest of the program as a whole."