Scarcely two minutes into practice, Frank Martin saw Justin McKie stop on the wing and hold the ball over his head, looking for the passing lane. “Stop!” he hollered.
After a few minutes, Reggie Theus Jr. did the same thing. Martin again yelled to stop, and asked why Theus did the exact thing that stopped practice a few minutes earlier.
The third time around, a frustrated Martin asked the team why he had to stop practice three times to make the same point. Nobody had an answer.
Which might be a repeating element this year.
“Take a look at what I looked like the day I got hired and see what I look like now,” South Carolina’s second-year coach said Monday, the first day of team practice. “The hair’s a little whiter, and there’s a bigger spot on the top of my head, that’s going to go that way with these guys. They’re great.”
The Gamecocks took the floor with eight newcomers — seven freshmen and junior transfer Ty Johnson. While rules governing individual or small-group instruction have been lessened recently, this was still the first day the entire team can practice together.
USC was together Monday, and despite the first 15 minutes being open to the media, it seemed that the youth-stocked Gamecocks will have a lot of similar moments. Martin expected nothing less. — Although the new class reported during the summer and got a head start on conditioning, the system and language that Martin is teaching will take time to be learned.
He’s hoping that it will be mostly installed by Nov. 9, when Longwood comes to Colonial Life Arena for the season opener.
Martin said system implementation has taken “Throughout the summer and the first four, five weeks, whatever it’s been. Two hours a week, trying to figure out a way to teach the parts of the whole and now here, teach the whole and connect those parts, and hopefully about a month from now, be able to resemble a basketball team.”
The Gamecocks took the floor in sharp new practice uniforms, reversible garnet tops that turned inside-out and matching gray camouflage shorts. The energetic Michael Carrera was one of the first on the floor, shorts rolled down at the waist, along with fellow sophomore Minda Kacinas.
Expectations this season are middling to low. The Gamecocks went 14-18 last year and won four of their final 19 games. USC has not had a winning season since 2008-09 and has not played in the NCAA tournament since 2004. While almost all of that happened well before Martin arrived, it’s now his program that still has the perpetual “two years away” tag stamped on it.
He knows that there will be a lot of growing pains as his freshman-stocked team goes through the battles of SEC basketball. He knows the SEC has two elite teams in Kentucky and Florida and several other teams that could challenge for top-four finishes and make noise come March. He knows USC probably shouldn’t strike any fear into any opponent’s heart.
Martin also knows that is exactly what might make the Gamecocks their most dangerous — with eight newcomers, USC is an unknown.
True to form, Martin offered no expectations of wins and losses or where he wants this team to be in March.
“Nobody expects to win more than me. Nobody,” he declared. “I don’t put expectations on records, I don’t put expectations on anything that’s materialistic. My expectations are for this program to compete for an SEC championship. When that happens, I don’t know, but that’s my expectation every day. And for every one of our guys to get better, every single day.”