From the outside it looked as if Darrin Horn’s program was falling apart back in March.
The South Carolina men’s basketball coach saw three players, Murphy Holloway, Stephen Spinella and Ramon Galloway, announce their intentions to transfer and also dealt with the aftermath of Bruce Ellington’s decision to also play football.
Those defections certainly didn’t help the public perception of the program’s foundation, but will they also cripple Horn’s ability to recruit and rebuild? Maybe but maybe not, according to analysts.
“It shouldn’t, but it’s kind of like the used-car business with the way rival coaches and recruiters are,” North Carolina-based recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons said. “They will try to make that a big issue, and ask all the kids, ‘Why is this a problem? Why are all the kids not happy there?’
“I’m sure each [player] had his own personal reason, but knowing and observing the negativity that goes into recruiting when you are going head to head with a key opponent for a particular prospect, they are going to make an issue out of that. They are at least going to raise the question, and the challenge for coach Horn and his staff is to have a positive message and emphasize that each of these [departures] was different.”
Horn said in March that each of the decisions was made individually, eschewing any perceptions that a program-wide malaise had set in. According to Horn, Galloway and Spinella left to seek more playing time, Holloway had a desire to return to Ole Miss, which signed him out of Dutch Fork High School, and Ellington had begun to miss football after leading Berkeley to a state championship in his senior season.
Still, the players’ departures are not the factor that’s going to hurt USC the most, according to Will Gunter of PalmettoBasketball.com.
“It [won’t hurt] as much as the seasons they have had the last two years,” he said. “Coupled with some of the programs they are going against on a consistent basis, making the NCAA tournament and playing better I think that has more of an impact than the players leaving. Players aren’t stupid. They can look at it and understand most scenarios why players leave.”
However, sometimes recruits, when evaluating a school, only look skin-deep, falling in love with the facilities and the prestige. It’s those types of prospects that USC must educate on why each player decided to leave or play an additional sport in Ellington’s case.
The negativity of the departures has certainly given Horn and Co. a chance to spin it as a positive. The Gamecocks can advertise the chance for early playing time.
“The opportunity to come in and make an impact early is something that you’re definitely going to want to use on the recruiting trail at this juncture,” Gunther said “ With [elite] prospects you can tell them that they can be the ‘man’ right off the bat.”
“You’ve got immediate playing opportunities,” he said. “It’s wide open. You can tell guys, ‘If you’re good enough, you can start.’ They’ve got a great selling point there. I’m sure that’s exactly what they’ll do. And they should.”