First-year assistant coach Orlando Early left the USC basketball program on Thursday with a clear message for Gamecock fans.
“Coach (Darrin) Horn has the basketball program moving in the right direction,” he said. “Over the course of the last year, and more specifically over the course of the last several weeks, coach Horn has been an unbelievable leader for the staff and team.”
Early’s departure to become an assistant at N.C. State comes after the Gamecocks lost four scholarship players after a 14-16 season. Those changes left some fans questioning the program’s stability.
Horn, athletics director Eric Hyman and USC Board of Trustees members have said the recent offseason player changes are isolated incidents. Early’s departure likely will be considered a separate issue since he is reuniting with longtime friend Mark Gottfried, who was named the Wolfpack’s head coach this week.
Early was on Gottfried’s staff at Alabama for four seasons, a stretch when the Tide reached the NCAA tournament each year.
“I’m leaving South Carolina because this is an opportunity for my family and me that I can’t pass up,” Early said. “Mark and I have always talked about working together again in the future.”
Early spent one year as the Gamecocks’ main recruiter after five seasons as the head coach at Louisiana-Monroe. He had more years in coaching than USC’s three other assistants combined.
“When you have good, experienced people on your staff, there is always a chance they will move on,” Horn said. “We will find the right person to fill the vacancy on our staff, someone who will make us better as we continue to move forward.”
One possible replacement is Cypheus Bunton, a USC assistant who was assigned a lower-paying job of director of player development when Early was hired.