Best shooting team he’s had over his 10 years as a head coach. Best passing team he’s had since he’s been in charge of South Carolina. Fastest team he’s had since he started with the Gamecocks in 2012.
Frank Martin has made all the above statements this preseason. On the record, the USC coach hasn’t been shy in sharing bold observations about his 2017-18 squad, a bunch picked by media members to finish near the SEC’s cellar.
Martin’s optimism, developed through a month of practices, can’t be tested until the Gamecocks play actual games. USC hosts Erskine on Monday in an exhibition contest, the first chance for fans and followers of the program to judge for themselves.
Is the Martin-generated hype real?
The best shooting team in Martin’s decade as a head coach was 2009-10 Kansas State. Those Wildcats shot 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3. They had four players average double figures in scoring, led by All-American Jacob Pullen’s 19.3 points per game. K-State finished 12th nationally in scoring, going for nearly 80 points a night.
It was no coincidence that those Wildcats won 29 games and advanced to the Elite Eight.
Since Martin’s been in Columbia, the Gamecocks haven’t shot better than 43 percent from the field. Three of their top four leading scorers from last year’s team – the core members to a Final Four run – are gone.
But … “we’ve got multiple guys that are shot-makers,” Martin said last week during SEC media day in Nashville.
Kory Holden likely sits near the top of that list. The University of Delaware transfer averaged nearly 18 points per game during the 2015-16 season, his last as a Blue Hen. Holden, though, never shot better than 40 percent from the field during his two years at UD. He was the main option on teams that won a combined 17 games from 2014-16.
Holden, along with junior Hassani Gravett, Maine transfer Wesley Myers and freshman David Beatty, is in the point guard rotation.
“We have multiple scorers,” Holden said Thursday. “A lot of people that can get the ball upcourt and score at will, coming from freshmen, upperclassmen, transfers.
“It’s a good feeling that we know we have multiple people who can put the ball in the hoop.”
Myers averaged close to 17 points per game in his final season at Maine. Beatty, a four-star recruit, closed his high school career with a 19-point effort in a Pennsylvania state title game.
The best passing team – statistically speaking – during Martin’s tenure at USC came in 2014-15 when the Gamecocks averaged more assists (13.2 per game) than turnovers (12.8) for the only time since Martin’s 2012 hire.
“We’ve been moving the ball really well, actually,” Holden said. “Nobody’s being selfish. One point guard gets it and just kicks it out to the other, and we’re just moving the ball, everyone’s taking the open shot, the right shot that Frank loves.
“And one thing he told us: A great player learns where the shots are coming from. So I think we’ve all tried to learn what he expressed from that and just learning each spot on the floor we can get our shots from. And that’s where our passing comes in, because we know where one person is going to be at each time.
“So we’re just learning each other.”
There’s no clear numbers-based data to determine Martin’s quickest or most athletic teams over the years, but consider this: Six-foot-9 junior forward Chris Silvia, the team’s leading returning scorer, put on a dunking clinic during Thursday’s practice, topping it all with an emphatic posterizing of the 6-3 Frank Booker.
“I’m real happy with our team,” Martin said Thursday, “a lot further ahead than I would have imagined us to be if I had sat back and tried to figure out where this team would be after three and a half weeks of practice.
“I’ve very happy with the guys. All that can change in a month, but I don’t worry about stuff like that. Right now all indications are that these guys are going to manage this season the right way and we’ll deal with those emotions when they get here.
“But for now they’re a lot of fun to be around.”