Anything stand out after a week of practice?
“Yeah, I don’t have to play the guys I get mad at anymore,” Frank Martin said. “Got enough people.”
South Carolina’s fourth season under Martin began this week and it was hard not to notice the differences. Players have to wait for reps. There’s a lot of substituting in shifts. Martin doesn’t have to ask one guy to do everything because he at last has a full team.
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The first three years, due to injuries, matriculation and players’ bad decisions, the roster was often whittled to five scholarship players and whoever happened to be walking by Colonial Life Arena when practice began. Now Martin has 15 players who he can mix and match into several potent combinations because he’s finally blessed with the depth and talent he needs to compete in the SEC.
He’s never been one to set expectations, as in “20 wins” or “top-four finish.” But he said last year after the Gamecocks completed the program’s first winning season in seven years that the postseason is always a goal.
This team could be the one that gets to play in March instead of taking off for spring break.
“We create our expectations. We don’t want to play for seventh place because they voted us eighth in some poll,” Martin said. “What matters is where we’re at, and I can tell you I’m as comfortable with our basketball team as I’ve been since any second that I’ve been here.”
Sindarius Thornwell is healthy after battling tendinitis in both knees last year. Duane Notice added muscle to his upper body to keep from having another bad January. P.J. Dozier, just the fourth McDonald’s All-American in program history, headlines a class of freshmen that give the Gamecocks a full bench.
In Year 4, his fundamentals will be the same, but Martin won’t be hamstrung by lack of bodies. The 15 players each bring a wealth of skills and he has the chess pieces to scheme into a strong team.
“I think we have too many guys now,” center Laimonas Chatkevicius said. “I’m not used to that. Glad to see so many faces here.”
Martin credited his upperclassmen for guiding the new players through the early days, and the first week has been introducing offensive sets and letting them freelance on defense. Defensive sets go in next week and he expects his players to pick them up as quickly as they did offense.
Other teams are talking umpteenth straight NCAA Tournament appearances and the NBA Draft, but USC is talking about seeing the first big result of Martin’s longtime goal.
He won’t label it as an expectation, but March is on his mind.
“We’re older, we’re bigger, we’re stronger, we’re better prepared mentally,” he said. “The expectation of competing for an SEC championship … will never change.”
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