They’ve all been together for only two practices, but Frank Martin and his returnees like what they’ve seen from South Carolina’s crop of freshmen.
“I see a courage to make a play that you’ve got to have to be good,” Martin said on Tuesday. “They all got that in them right now. They’re all willing to take a chance to go make a play. You can’t make a play if you don’t try to make it.”
Martin, senior Brenton Williams and sophomore Michael Carrera have each been around the freshmen a lot since the summer. Williams and Carrera got to see them during individual workouts and also the S.C. Pro Am, the summer competition that is the brainchild of former Gamecock Carey Rich. Martin got to work with them for limited time, but never together as a team.
All three got to see the seven freshmen on the floor at once over the past two days, and like what they’ve seen. There’s not a lot of hesitancy or nervousness – many of the freshmen have competed on too high of a level already to be tentative now.
Sindarius Thornwell, the crown jewel of the recruiting class, spent his last year at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, playing against other prep powerhouses across the country. Duane Notice competed with the Canadian junior national team. Yes, they’re freshmen, but they’re not freshmen who are expected to learn for a year or two before playing.
All of them will play, and play right away. Once the season begins, Martin might have a constant rotation, either by design or because he doesn’t know how they will play in a game.
“They adjusted pretty well,” Williams said. “A lot better than what we thought they would. They’re still learning. They’ll get better as time comes along.”
Martin offered some specifics of what he’s planning to do for the season. With Bruce Ellington and Ty Johnson out until December, the Gamecocks will need a point guard. Notice and Jaylen Shaw are competing for the spot, and Thornwell, a natural two-guard, can also play it if necessary.
Carrera mentioned that he’s moving to small forward from the power forward spot that he often was forced to play last year, which will open up his outside shooting and also protect his still-recovering hip (nearly 100 percent, but still not quite there).
There will be a lot of adjustment. There will be a lot of what went on on Monday, when Martin had to stop practice three times in five minutes for the same mistake. But there are already a lot of subtle differences that have let Martin know that this is an entirely new year.
“There were times during our first season that you thought you were in a morgue, listening to us practice,” he said. “Thee guys that have been around, they don’t shut up, and that’s the way it should be.”
Martin constantly mentioned how his team didn’t talk to each other in practice or games last year, and that has been reversed. He said the best practices that he has been a part of are where he and his assistants say little and the players say a lot.
The communication is better. The enthusiasm and emotion are better. Personnel-wise, the returnees have made some improvements, such as Williams putting on 20 pounds but able to run faster and longer and jump higher.
“It’s a young team,” Carrera said. “They worked really hard. We just want to win. That’s what we want.”