The freshman sometimes makes freshman mistakes.
But those times he plays like a senior are keeping him on the floor – and now in the starting lineup.
“The plan is for him to be in that lineup unless he doesn’t play well and someone else does,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “He brings an unbelievable amount of energy, an unbelievable amount of toughness and passion and enthusiasm.”
Chris Silva started his first career game in the No. 25 Gamecocks’ win over Alabama last week and responded with 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks. In a physical game, Silva backed down from no one – except when he was perfectly content to let the Crimson Tide get a technical foul.
The Gamecocks (19-2, 6-2 SEC) thought they had mined a diamond when they found Silva on the recruiting trail, loving his athleticism and ability to pluck a piece of paper off the top of the backboard. He was raw – it’s a favorite story that the first time he was asked to check in during a high school game, he ran right off the bench instead of going to the scorer’s table – but his natural gifts were so off-the-charts that USC knew it could hone him.
His eat-the-rim mentality has already made him a crowd favorite, the #SilvaSlam hashtag for his dunks begetting #SilvaSwat on defense. There’s still a lot for the rookie to learn, but his presence in the paint has made the Gamecocks a ferocious defensive squad and taken a lot of the burden off a sometimes-struggling offense.
“We know we’re going to get one thing from him – he’s going to give it his all every play,” Sindarius Thornwell said. “He might not know what we’re running on offense, but on defense, we know that he’s going to protect the rim and do whatever coach asks him to do. He brings that energy and hard play that we need to start the game.”
Silva has gone nose-to-nose with several of the SEC’s monsters in the lane, and will get another chance Tuesday. He’s slated to start again and will be tangling with Georgia’s Yante Maten and Houston Kessler, each listed at 6-foot-8.
Martin knows he gives up some offense by playing Silva, but it helps his guards settle down.
“He guards ball-screens the way we ask him to guard ball-screens,” Martin said. “That makes the guards more aggressive because they know that the guy behind them is going to get the coverage that’s supposed to be there.”
Silva displayed an improving knack for rebounding the ball under the basket and twisting a putback into the hole against Alabama. The Gamecocks could use that against the Bulldogs as they enter a tough four-game stretch one win away from their 16th 20-win season.
USC’s depth has keyed the 19 wins thus far. Silva, starting or off the bench, should play a major role in any others the Gamecocks get.
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Gamecocks vs. Bulldogs
Who: No. 25 USC (19-2, 6-2 SEC) at Georgia (11-8, 4-4) | When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga. | TV: ESPNU
NO. 25 SOUTH CAROLINA (19-2, 6-2 SEC) at GEORGIA (11-8, 4-4)
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.
Tickets: Available at the box office
USC’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 Fr. (7.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Jr. (11.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg); F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 Sr. (10.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg); F Michael Carrera 6-5 Sr. (14.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg); C Chris Silva 6-9 Fr. (5.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Georgia’s probable starters: G Kenny Gaines 6-3 Sr. (14.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg); G J.J. Frazier 5-10 Jr. (16.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg); G Charles Mann 6-5 Sr. (10.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg); F Houston Kessler 6-8 Jr. (2.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg); F Yante Maten 6-8 So. (15.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg)
Next game: The Gamecocks tip off at No. 8 Texas A&M at 4 p.m. on Saturday.