Picture it – 7-foot-1 sophomore Khadim Gueye receives the ball in the paint during the 2017-18 season and is about to post up before he realizes the opposing center has his arms nearly wrapped around him. Gueye throws to the block, where 7-1 freshman Jason Cudd has a face-up shot until the power forward steps over.
Cudd throws high across the lane to freshman Zach Brown, also 7-1, who sees Gueye screen his man, then takes a Shaq-esque slam dribble and big step before he elevates for the jam. Colonial Life Arena roars.
It could happen.
No, really, it could.
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South Carolina has already received a signed letter-of-intent from Gueye for next season and has offered Cudd, a junior at Socastee High. Brown, who had committed to Connecticut, changed his mind and is back home in Miami. According to recruiting insider Adam Zagoria, “Sources said South Carolina now figures to be a major player for Brown,” and with Frank Martin’s connections in Miami and Brown’s previously stated comments that he wouldn’t mind playing college ball away from home, that could be a natural fit.
Three 7-footers on the same team would give the Gamecocks a monopoly on a desired rarity in the game and equal the believed amount of true 7-footers USC has had in its history. Jeff Roulston (1989-92) was listed at 7 feet but was really 6-11, according to former sports information director Brian Binette, leaving Mike Brittain (1982-85), Danny Traylor (1971-73) and Gueye as the only USC 7-footers.
Three on the same team, on the court at the same time?
“I think that would be an amazing dimension,” former USC guard and Columbia Tip-off Club President Dennis Powell said. “I think we’d have a national championship.”
A 7-footer gives a team a different look. If they’re takeover centers (Ralph Sampson, Patrick Ewing, Kareem), give them the ball and good luck, opponent, trying to stop them. If they’re still learning offense, stick them in the lane on defense with arms up, and good luck, opponent, trying to shoot over them.
“When Danny was playing, if they penetrated, Danny typically would block the shot, swat it away,” Powell said. “If you’re going to challenge a 7-footer, more times than not, he’ll block the shot.”
Talent and automatic respect swirls into one player. Even if a 7-footer may not score a lot, just looking at that figure on the lineup sheet automatically raises eyebrows.
“A 7-foot guy with a wingspan like that, it was intimidating sometimes,” Powell said. “It’s intimidating to play against someone that size.”
Traylor handled the paint on a team stocked with stars. Brittain did it under Bill Foster. Gueye gets his turn next year and may get some help the year after.
“He’s a great defender and rim-protector,” said Gueye’s coach, Loren Jackson, at Victory Rock (Fla.) Prep. “He really understands help defense; he’s very, very good at that. He’s improving every day from an offensive standpoint.”
Martin likes to play big, desiring to shoot close to the rim or get to the free-throw line. Gueye, though, likely won’t be asked to be an offensive stalwart right away; with the Gamecocks returning Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and P.J. Dozier, the ball rightly should be in their hands.
“He’s got three good backcourt guys coming back. Why would you throw the ball to a freshman?” Jackson said. “He’s not a slender kid, he’s 240. He’s got a college ready-made body. He’s very raw with his skills right now from an offensive standpoint. But he communicates on defense, he’s a great screener, not a good screener. I’m expecting great things from him.”
Gueye arrives in Columbia by July. The Gamecocks could add two more 7-footers after his first season. As special as it’s been to watch Martin rebuild USC basketball, the highest heights haven’t been reached.
Giants in the middle would hit that, in roster size and expectations.
“I think it’ll be amazing,” Powell said. “To have a frontcourt that is that big and intimidating certainly relieves a lot of pressure on his guards. Frank has a great ability of working with big men, and usually if you get one, it attracts more.”
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Gamecocks’ big men
A look at USC’s 7-footers:
DANNY TRAYLOR (1971-73)
Signed under Frank McGuire, he held the career blocked shots record (235) that’s since been passed. He was drafted but never played a professional game.
MIKE BRITTAIN (1982-85)
He played for Bill Foster and was picked by San Antonio in the second round of the 1985 draft. He played in 38 NBA games. Brittain died in 1995 at age 32.
JEFF ROULSTON (1989-92)*
Roulston played during the Gamecocks’ transition from the Metro to the SEC, starting against a freshman named Shaquille O’Neal as a senior.
KHADIM GUEYE (2016-)
Rated a three-star prospect by ESPN, the 7-foot-1 freshman is expected to enroll at USC this summer. From Senegal, Gueye averaged 9.3 points and 9.5 rebounds for Victory Rock (Fla.) Prep last season.
And could be . . .
The Gamecocks are recruiting two more in the Class of 2017:
7-1 center from Socastee, Cudd has been offered by several programs, including USC, Clemson and Georgia.
Also 7-1, Brown decommitted from Connecticut and is back home in Miami. He is a five-star prospect .
(*Roulston was listed as 7 feet, but was actually 6-11, according to former sports information director Brian Binette)
With apologies to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal – the two best 7-footers in NBA history – some other famous tall people:
Andre the Giant
The wrestler/actor died at the age of 47. He was perhaps best known for his role in Princess Bride.
Known for his on-court and off-court exploits, he averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds in 16 NBA season.
Living up to the hype, he averaged 19.0 points and 9.2 rebounds in an NBA career cut short by injuries.
Happy Gilmore actor died at 75 in 2014. He also appeared in The Longest Yard and The Spy Who Loved Me.