As the size of Frank Martin’s first full recruiting class swelled, it became apparent that a number of returning USC men’s basketball players would have to go.
On Friday, Martin announced he had released four Gamecocks from their scholarships to seek transfers.
Rising junior Damien Leonard and rising seniors Eric Smith, RJ Slawson and Brian Richardson “have decided to ask for their release and will not be with the team moving forward,” Martin said in a statement.
“We want to thank them for being tremendous representatives for the university, the athletics department and the men’s basketball team,” Martin added. “We fully support them and wish them the best moving forward.”
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With the exception of Smith, the players asking for their release shared a common trait — at various points during the Gamecocks’ 14-18 campaign, they had played themselves out of Martin’s rotation.
Smith and Slawson are on track to graduate this spring, so they will be able to play immediately upon transferring. Richardson and Leonard will have to sit out a season. Richardson will have one year remaining, while Leonard will have two years remaining.
None of the four are considered fits for Clemson, despite several being recruited by the Tigers out of high school. All are thought to be looking at schools close to home.
Richardson, who reached double figures in scoring 10 times this past season and set a career high with 20 points on two occasions, is thought to be favoring a return to his home turf in North Carolina.
A recent SportsTalk radio report indicated Smith had narrowed his possibilities to Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina, which is not far from his hometown of Mullins.
Leonard was a top-100 prospect out of J.L. Mann and is considered to be a strong lean toward an Upstate school in the Southern Conference.
Slawson, also a consensus top-100 prospect coming out of the Charleston area, is thought to be leaning toward a return to his roots in the Lowcountry.
Something had to give on the Gamecocks’ roster after recent signings and commitments bloated the potential roster to 17, including seven incoming freshman and rising junior transfer Tyrone Johnson.
At a Fan Fest appearance last week in Florence, Martin said the roster’s questions were answered during individual player meetings following the season’s end.
The transfers now give the Gamecocks 13 players on scholarship. One last domino could fall as the status of rising junior Carlton Geathers remains murky due to continuing knee injury concerns.
The transfers also mean the Gamecocks will have one scholarship senior on the 2013-14 squad in Brenton Williams, making the fate of Geathers’ spot all that more important to the team’s future. As of now, the Gamecocks’ 2014 recruiting class has room only for Keenan High commitment Marcus Stroman, but the team has been aggressive in recruiting Gaffney’s LJ Peak, among others.
Rising senior Bruce Ellington is on a football scholarship and does not count toward the team’s scholarship total.
Six of the seven incoming freshmen have signed their letters of intent. Irmo guard Justin McKie, Lancaster swing player Sindarius Thornwell and Georgia all-state center Desmond Ringer signed during the early signing period.
Florida post player Demetruis Henry, California forward Reggie Theus Jr. and Canadian guard Duane Notice signed this month. The seventh — Hartsville point guard Jaylen Shaw — plans to sign next week.