Darrin Horn had to know that recruiting was going to be difficult at South Carolina, but it’s hard to imagine even he knew quite how hard.
In a state where basketball plays second-fiddle to football – and even third-fiddle to football and baseball for a large part of the population – recruiting was always going to be the biggest challenge facing the USC men’s basketball coach.
Horn has effectively kept some top instate players from leaving the Palmetto State, most notably R.J. Slawson in the Class of 2010 and Damien Leonard in the Class of 2011. Both were top-100 prospects in their classes.
However, it’s going to be tough to compete for championships in a state that has produced just two McDonald’s All-Americans in the last decade, Milton Jennings in 2009 and Raymond Felton in 2002.
The state has produced nine All-Americans all-time, and USC has inked just two of them: Lower Richland’s Rolando Howell in 2000 and Irmo’s B.J. McKie in 1995. USC did sign Baltimore’s Terry Dozier, another All-American, in 1985.
So, as the Gamecocks try to repair their roster and the program’s image, recruiting is vital.
“We feel good about where we are,” said Horn, speaking before an audience Wednesday at Gamecock Fan Fest in Fort Mill. “I don’t think you’re ever satisfied in recruiting, but we’ve got to continue to work hard and get ready for July recruiting. We’ll keep grinding.”
Some recruiting analysts believe that Horn and Co. will have to work extra hard to show recruits there is a healthy status quo within the program. Although each of the three players that transferred did so for their own individual reasons, it will be imperative that the coaching staff proves to prospects that there aren’t major problems within the program.
Horn said the departures open up spots on the roster and the potential for early playing time with signees.
“That’s something as we get deeper into recruiting could come up, without question,” Horn said of the defections. “We’ll address it like we do anything, upfront and honestly and take it from there.
“I think it can,” he added of the potential benefits of offering early playing time. “Some of it depends on the spot as well and who it is. It’s something that’s always a possibility. For us we’ve got a track record of playing the best guys regardless of what class they are in. That’s always a selling point.”
USC football coach Steve Spurrier trumpeted his program’s recent instate recruiting success at the event, saying the Gamecocks signed 10 of the 11 players from the Palmetto State they targeted in the Class of 2011. Their only miss was Marlboro County linebacker Lateek Townsend, who signed with Clemson.
“What we finally have done here at South Carolina we’re getting the best players to stay at home and play for their state university,” Spurrier told the crowd. “When kids from out of state see that, then we have a chance to recruit them also. But you’ve got to get your instate guys, and we’ve been fortunate the last two or three years that we’re making big progress on that right there.”
Having stolen all the instate momentum away from Clemson, the Gamecocks are certainly in position to have similar success in the Class of 2012. However, it remains to be seen if the program will have the available scholarships to accept all of the instate prospects who have been offered.
Recruiting coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr. said earlier this spring the program was projecting 14 available scholarships next year. A few more will likely open up in the coming months, but USC won’t have the flexibility to sign a large class like it did in February.