David Cloninger

October 1, 2013

Who Else? Hoops leftovers, Oct. 1

Some basketball leftovers from a busy Tuesday

David Cloninger

All things Gamecocks, especially basketball and football

Some basketball leftovers from a busy Tuesday:

Frank Martin, Brenton Williams and Michael Carrera met with the media on Tuesday to talk about practice. It’s only two days in, but they’ve already seen much improvement.

Martin talked a lot about the fan support. It’s been a hot topic with him since his first game last year, when he walked into the Colonial and wondered where everybody was. Obviously, he knows that wins have a lot to do with that, and the apathy surrounding the program also does. He wants that to change.

“You can’t sustain success without fans. Can’t. And I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, you hear people say, ‘Well, I’ll wait and see if they’re going to be good.’ I respect that, but I’m really not interested in listening to that fan. Now if a fan comes in here, and sweats with us and bleeds with us and cries with us, whether we cry because of frustration or we cry because of joy, then that fan deserves to be a part of what we do. We need more fans like that right now. We got some, we need more.”

He doesn’t ever want to see half the arena in the opponent’s corner, like it was for Kentucky and Ohio State a few years ago.

“I understand they’ve been through a lot here when it comes to men’s basketball. We need them to be willing to trust and engage and support our guys, because I can tell you, our guys are working their tails off. I don’t know when this corner is going to get turned, but when it’s turned, I want those fans who have sweated, and bled and cried with us on the way, there.”

Upperclassmen improvement:

“Mindaugas is a lot stronger than he was at any time last year. He couldn’t sustain the strength part of it when we got to the beef of the schedule. Mike is healthy. You don’t have to worry about Mike’s motor. That thing runs when he’s sleeping. Ty’s been real good with those young guards. He physically tries to dominate those young kids, but doesn’t try to embarrass them, show them up. Laimonas is better than he was last year. He actually doesn’t run up and down twice and falls over.”

I mentioned yesterday that I didn’t recognize Laimonas Chatkevicius. He’s lost a lot of weight, grew his hair out and grew a beard. The Gamecocks need him to take up some space in the post, and he needed to be in shape. As Martin said, last year he’d run up and down twice and then start tugging on his shorts. Martin termed that embarrassing.

Martin has also been impressed that Williams, a very quiet guy, has tried to be more vocal this year. In classic Martin, he said that he actually found out Williams could speak. He was about to start learning sign language. Williams feels that he can be the guy to score 15 to 17 points per night, if USC needs him to; he took the company line of doing whatever has to be done to help the team.

Dawn Staley, Aleighsa Welch and Tiffany Mitchell also spoke on Tuesday. It was their first day of practice.

Going to an adjustment to learning USC’s defense, which has been the rock of the program the past two years. There is no more Ieasia Walker there to set that tone, and no more Ashley Bruner on the block.

But the Gamecocks have so much experience from the past two teams returning, and there’s no substitute for that. Once the newcomers learn the system, and the veterans realize that they’ve been there before, there shouldn’t be anything to keep them from a third straight NCAA tournament trip.

Some notes:

* Newcomer Olivia Gaines is wearing No. 2. That’s fitting, since she’s from Chester, hometown of Devan Downey. I didn’t get to talk to her on Tuesday, but I’m hoping that’s why she wears No. 2.

* Alaina Coates, Staley says, is one of the strongest players that she’s ever had, and she’s just a freshman. Elem Ibiam, who had to try and shove Charenee Stephens (one of the strongest-willed people I’ve ever seen) around, has had trouble trying to get Coates out of the paint. She’ll go through the adjustment period that many of the high-school stars go through, as in learning how to be consistent without being the throw-it-to-the-big-girl recipient of high school. She’s raw, but she’s going to get a lot better. She’s definitely not taking any days off.

* Tiffany Davis and Tina Roy are good to go. Roy was going to be fine, since she’s had over a year of recovery from her ACL tear, and Davis was cleared a month ago. Davis was practicing with a brace on her knee, but it’s more of a comfort thing. She may be without it during the year.

* The team’s three captains are Ibiam, Khadijah Sessions and Aleighsa Welch. Sessions was elected by her peers despite being just a sophomore. She is battling Davis for the point guard spot, but with a full year of experience under her belt, she should at least start the season there. She’s lost some weight and has attacked her offseason program, which has resulted in her looking almost completely different.

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