Brian Steele was in his familiar No. 35 jersey and sitting with his teammates at Wednesday’s Media Day.
He earned the right to wear it one more time – even if it’s probably the last time.
"I got to ask that – I don’t really know," Steele mused. "I probably won’t wear a uniform. Maybe team sweats. I’m not really a suit guy."
Steele was pondering what he’ll wear on the bench this season. His knees won’t allow him to play anymore, so he’s helping South Carolina as a student assistant coach.
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While it pained him worse than the knee that kept ballooning to grapefruit size when he tried to play, Steele gave up the game he loved. He couldn’t stay completely away, though, and labeled the circumstances a head start for his future.
"I’ve always really wanted to coach," Steele said. "As I talked to (Frank Martin), he tried to turn it into a positive that this could be a first step for the rest of my life."
Steele was a yeller, anyway – he always hollered at his teammates in the weight room and during games. A senior who never dented the stat sheets but was nevertheless a crowd favorite, Steele earned a reputation as the team’s hardest worker and started a few games as a freshman.
Multiple knee surgeries led to chronic pain at the end of last season. The joints were thought repaired, but he began to have issues at the end of the summer; following a consultation with the medics and a trip home, he came back to campus for one more try.
The knee wouldn’t hold up. Steele reluctantly accepted that his playing career was over.
"It was miserable. It’s kind of been my everything since I’ve been in college and really my whole life," he said. "It was really, really difficult at first."
Martin reassured Steele he would have a place at USC. When Steele broached the subject of coaching, Martin (jokingly) asked if he was crazy and the senior was reinvented.
Part of his day-to-day duties is having the practice squads pre-determined for every drill. Martin has chided him to speak up a bit but otherwise the new position is a hit.
"He’s got a desire in his heart for our basketball team that’s phenomenal," Martin said. "He’s got great spirit. He’s believed in this from Day 1. At the same time, he’s in the transition phase now. He’s a teammate, he’s in there with them every day … but once practice starts, he has to start thinking like a coach."
Steele hasn’t chewed anyone out or been chewed out by the rest of the staff. He’s been preaching the dream, which is what he’s always done.
Steele agrees with his fellow upperclassmen that this year’s Gamecocks are the team they’ve been waiting on.
"It’s just not an option for us not to win this year," he said.