South Carolina’s future was once again in action at the S.C. Pro Am on Thursday, and having missed a few days due to other commitments and the settling-in period, I began to feel the itch. There are only a few days left before the event ends, the players get back to normal conditioning and there’s basically a dead period until practice starts in October.
First off, there is only one more day of the regular event before the playoffs. That will be on Sunday, beginning at 2:30 p.m. All games are at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School and open to the public. The playoffs are Aug. 1-4. If you want to see the Gamecocks’ future – all eight of the newcomers have played at one time or another, and several former USC stars regularly play – now’s the time before they get locked into the practice facility until November (and I know the schedule’s still not released. It’s coming. I keep hearing one more contract to get returned and then it will be put out).
Thursday had four games featuring USC players. I had to skip the fourth due to working on another story (stay tuned to The State and GoGamecocks.com).
Game 1: Brian Steele/Duane Notice vs. Reggie Theus Jr. Steele: 2-4 (0-1 3), 4 pts, 6 reb, 2 ast Notice: 1-3 (1-1 3), 3 pts, 1 reb, 2 ast Theus Jr.: 2-9 (0-1 3), 6 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast
As you can tell, nobody had a great game stats-wise. But then again, there are reasons.
Steele is the walk-on guard that actually ended up starting the last few games of the season last year. He plays hard, plays with energy, but isn’t the guy who demands the ball. He has his teammates for that and knows it. He made an impact by snaring three of his rebounds at the end of the game and due to numbers, played most of the game. Like coach Frank Martin has said of him, he’s going to be on the team, with a uniform, and eligible to play every game. He doesn’t believe in “practice-only” players or whatnot. If you’re on the team, you have a chance to play, and Steele brings some veteran experience to the team, which will be in short supply this year, especially early. He’s not a scorer. He’s the guy to make the extra pass so somebody else can score.
Notice and Theus Jr. are in the same boat, since they were the last two of the newcomers to report, Notice due to playing with Team Canada and Theus Jr. because his high school didn’t graduate in time for him to be here earlier. Both are still getting used to the team workouts and conditioning sessions – strength coach Scott Greenawalt doesn’t take any days off getting the players ready for the season.
Notice is physically ready to play, which is good, since he’ll be one of the candidates to take the point with Ty Johnson and Bruce Ellington out for the first month. He’s very quick, always looking for the pass, and didn’t attempt many shots. He had one great dish where he drove into the lane, stopped on the high post and flipped around his head to a cutter for a dunk. While Johnson will bring a score-OR-direct mentality to the spot, Notice can be the pass-first guard, which is something he shares with Jaylen Shaw. Those two will see significant minutes at first, since Sindarius Thornwell can handle the ball, but he’s going to be needed to be most of the offense as well.
Theus Jr., I think, is going to be that “tweener” kind of player, able to play multiple positions and be the coveted matchup problem. He has a good-looking jumper, but can also drive and finish at the rim. There’s some work to be done defensively, but he’s just getting used to being cross-country and also playing pickup games when it’s often difficult to lift his arms. He seems to be a very even-keeled kid – perhaps being from Los Angeles will do that. He obviously has the bloodlines to be a productive player.
Game 2: Seventh Woods vs. Michael Carrera/Justin McKie Woods: 11-14 (4-7 3), 24 pts, 2 reb Carrera: 8-13 (3-8 3), 22 pts, 9 reb, 1 ast, 1 blk McKie: 7-12 (1-3 3), 15 pts, 3 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl
Scoring bonanza in Game 2, and featuring three of the players that everybody came to see. Woods is obviously the phenom, already one of the hottest prospects in the country despite having three more years of high school; Carrera on his way to a Pro Am MVP summer because of his relentless style, finally healthy and playing like it; McKie because of his name and because he brings in the “Mr. Basketball” hype, state championship and undefeated senior season in tow.
Woods didn’t show any of the highlight-reel dunks that have made him a darling of YouTube, but instead fired away from the 3-point line all night. He’s so smooth with it, loading up with a man in his face and coldly drilling the shot, that it’s a constant case of, “This dude can’t even legally drive yet.” Don’t ask me how USC stands with him, because I honestly think that right now, everybody stands an equal chance with him. He’s the prettiest girl at the dance for the Class of 2016, and he can take his time, pick and choose, etc. I think if the Gamecocks begin to win and win big while he goes through high school, their chances rise, but who knows? He’s got three years left to choose.
Anyway, his game was one of complete control. He directed, he ran the break well, he passed when he needed to (no assists was a product of his teammates launching ill-advised long-range Js) and he scored seemingly at will. Go out to Hammond this year to watch him. I’ll be there.
You can tell that Carrera is loving finally being healthy, after the hip injury drained his effectiveness at the end of last year and he played through concussions and busted eyebrows at other times. He is concentrating more on his outside shooting, not hesitant to shoot 3s, but is still his usual relentless self on the boards. He’s starting to hashtag himself as #AnimalCarrera, so perhaps it sticks. It’s certainly fitting.
As I’ve said numerous times, don’t expect McKie to be his dad. He knows that that’s an impossible thing to live up to, especially with BJ’s retired jersey hanging over his head every home game. He does what needs to be done. He has been struggling with his shots, an ankle sprain causing some of that, but he came around on Thursday. He scored eight straight in one stretch, two on a fadeaway and two on a vicious fake-out from the high post. He’ll be the kind of player that will work his way into the starting lineup by year’s end, and lead the team in scoring probably once every 10 games. But he’ll always show up in rebounds, assists, blocks, steals McKie is the “energy” guy, understanding what needs to be done on every possession, offensive or defensive. He’ll be fun to watch.
Game 3: Sindarius Thornwell/Ty Johnson vs. Austin Constable Thornwell: 10-20 (1-3 3), 24 pts, 8 reb, 5 ast Johnson: 8-13 (0-2 3), 17 pts, 5 ast Constable: 1-5 (0-3 3), 2 pts, 4 reb, 1 ast
It’s fun to watch Thornwell and Johnson on the floor together. Thornwell can play either guard spot, and so can Johnson, but Johnson’s much more comfortable at the point than at the two. He can be himself at the point, directing or deking his man to get to the rim, while at the two, he sometimes seems to be just waiting for a pass. Thornwell, as I’ve said all summer, has no idea this is an exhibition. He plays hard, all the time, and can be just as flashy passing the ball from the perimeter as he is at soaring for rebounds. He can shoot from everywhere, and considering the unproven factor of the early season (only Brenton Williams can be considered a true scorer), he’s going to be relied on. He can run the point, but he’ll play mostly the two. He’s a guy that I think will have the ball thrown to him enough that he’s a natural for an All-SEC Freshman selection. I would say he’d be a candidate for SEC Newcomer of the Year, but he’s not at Kentucky.
Johnson can also be that mysterious kind of point guard, where an opponent never knows if he’s going to pass or shoot. Is he Devan Downey? No, but then again, he won’t have to be. Downey had no one to pass to in his senior year and Johnson will. It will be interesting to see how the point position adjusts once he’s cleared in mid-December.
Constable is the other walk-on that joined the team last year. He only played six minutes over four games, but again, he’ll be a part of the team this year. He plays hard, even when he can’t come out because his team is just five players. They’re good kids and pieces of the program.
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