After four years of watching Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas (and Evka “The Baltic Bomber” Baniulis before them), I thought I had a handle on European players coming to America to play college ball. Even though they’re usually very tall and strong, they’d rather play a perimeter offensive game instead of posting up and scoring at the rim.
Maik Kotsar is changing my mind.
Perhaps it’s because he’s from Estonia and the other three were from Lithuania. Perhaps it’s that Frank Martin knows how to sculpt diamonds from previously undiscovered mines.
Whatever it is, he’s giving USC a punch besides its backcourt, which is what the Gamecocks need this year to be successful.
Kotsar, 6-foot-10, 245 and looking in the face like that werewolf dude from “Twilight,” has started all four of USC’s games at power forward and has displayed why. It’s just that in the first three games, his tail was warming plastic because he couldn’t stop fouling.
He may be awfully talented and the future of the position, but he wasn’t worth anything if he couldn’t stop getting two fouls in the first four minutes every night. He calmed down against S.C. State on Friday and played 23 minutes, third-most on the team, with 15 points, eight boards and two blocks.
What most impressed me were his post moves. USC would give it to him on the block and he’d dribble, then move equally well to his right or left to score. He’d go rebound and put it back, finishing through contact.
As much as Chatkevicius and Kacinas meant to this program in their four years, it was a grind to teach them how to use their size and not drift outside for 3-pointers. Kotsar, Martin says, can hit that 3 but has been a force in the paint in his brief collegiate career.
“I wouldn’t call him a 3-point shooter, but then again, neither was Laimo, even though he’d want to go shoot them,” Martin said. “But Maik can shoot that 17-foot shot, he’s pretty good at it. If we can keep him out of foul trouble, Maik’s going to be a real good player for us.”
Martin also mentioned Kotsar’s pride, with his realization of making a mistake and wanting to talk about it on the bench. Since the game doesn’t stop, Martin tells him to forget about it and think of the next play. It’s not working well thus far, as Kotsar wants to see what he did wrong so he can correct it the next time.
FROM THE BASELINE
Ah, the SEC: There was a break in the first half Friday where one official called a charge and one called a block. After a discussion and look at the monitor, they awarded S.C. State two free throws.
I’m still waiting to hear the reason. It was one call or the other, and neither was flagrant. But I’m sure that didn’t matter so much as inserting themselves into the game.
New look: Justin McKie showed up with a bald head. It wasn’t uncommon, as his dad usually sported such a look, but it was a first for the younger McKie.
He said it was part of a fraternity deal. All I know is he had two moves that looked just like his father during the game – a spinner into the lane for a layup and a right-handed soaring layup on a fast break.
Keep the razor handy, kiddo.
Who: South Carolina vs. Michigan
When: 5 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
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