South Carolina’s past and future collected in one room, celebrating one championship and hopefully the steps toward another.
The Gamecocks’ annual Legends Weekend began on Friday night with a reception at 701 Whaley, a few 3-pointers away from where most in the room played their home games and a couple more from where the current team does. All will gather Saturday to watch USC host Georgia, seeking to improve to 9-1 in the SEC and stay in first place as the second half of the league season begins.
Legends Weekend happens every year but this year features a special event. The 1997 SEC regular-season championship team, the only one in program history, was invited back – and it’s coincidental that 20 years from then, another team is bidding to become the second.
The 2016-17 Gamecocks were gathered, some watching screen projections of some of the best games from the 1996-97 team. Sindarius Thornwell watched and perhaps received a few pointers from Eddie Fogler, the 1997 SEC Coach of the Year and currently the only coach in program history to post two winning SEC seasons.
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The banners hung and the memories flooded. Fogler, Frank Martin and others welcomed players from all eras.
“Loved watching his teams play, how candid he was,” Martin said of Fogler and their friendship. “When we got to Kansas State, got to know him through coach (Bob) Huggins. He’s the guy that convinced me to come at the end of the day.”
Fogler was integral to getting Martin to USC and loves the way the program has progressed. The Gamecocks are tied for the SEC lead with Kentucky and are a staple in NCAA tournament projections with nine games to go.
Friday was a chance to celebrate all the others who wore the colors and fought for respectability as well. Players from the ACC, Metro and SEC were present.
“Like I tell our players all the time, we got a lot of things they never had,” Martin said. “They made it better for us.”
The 1997 banners for the regular-season title and NCAA tournament appearance were prominent. No chance the current team missed seeing them.
Is it perhaps meant to be?
“I have not talked to Frank about that,” Fogler said. “I do follow college basketball very closely. I do realize (USC and Kentucky) have one loss.
“I would tell you, I watched the Georgia-Kentucky game the other night. Georgia very easily could have won that game.”
They didn’t, depriving USC of sole possession of first place. But there’s always the next game.
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Who: Georgia (13-9, 4-5 SEC) at No. 19 USC (18-4, 8-1)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Radio: 107.5 FM
Georgia’s probable starters: G J.J. Frazier 5-10 Sr. (15.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G Juwan Parker 6-4 Jr. (9.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg); G William Jackson 6-4 So. (3.6 ppg, 1.0 rpg); F Derek Ogbeide 6-8 So. (7.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg); F Yante Maten 6-8 Jr. (19.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 So. (13.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Sr. (19.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg); G Duane Notice 6-2 Sr. (10.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg); F Maik Kotsar 6-10 Fr. (6.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg); F Chris Silva 6-9 So. (9.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina hosts Alabama at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.