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Despite strides, hoops faces scholarship loss

South Carolina coach Darrin Horn leaves the court following their 82-68 loss to Mississippi State in an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference men's tournament in Tampa, Fla., March 13, 2009.
South Carolina coach Darrin Horn leaves the court following their 82-68 loss to Mississippi State in an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference men's tournament in Tampa, Fla., March 13, 2009.

For the second consecutive year South Carolina's men's basketball program lost a scholarship because of its poor academic performance, although athletics department officials said the Gamecocks have rebounded in the classroom under Darrin Horn.

The men's squad was USC's only team that faced penalties as a result of the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate (APR) data, which was released Wednesday and encompassed the four-year period from the 2004-05 to 2007-08 school years, before Horn arrived in Columbia.

In Dave Odom's final season at USC, the Gamecocks had a multiyear APR of 909, below the 925 threshold that triggers scholarship losses for teams that have a player leave in poor academic standing with eligibility remaining.

A pair of players left the USC men’s team before the 2008-2009 season: forwards Chad Gray and Trevor Deloach.

As was the case last year, the Gamecocks chose to take the scholarship hit early. In fact, Horn used 11 of a maximum 13 scholarships in his first season after succeeding Odom.

"He wasn't able to come in and fill his roster straightaway, anyway," senior associate athletics director Val Sheley said. "So it was better for him to take it this year and have the scholarship back for the full recruiting year."

Sheley and athletics director Eric Hyman said the men's team showed marked improvement under Horn, who graduated all of his players at Western Kentucky who completed their eligibility.

"He has a different attitude when it comes to disciplining and making sure they go to class and so on," Sheley said. "It's amazing to us to have the same athletes perform so much better in the classroom this year than they did last year."

The basketball program needed an NCAA waiver last year to avoid incurring an historical penalty, which as a first-time offender, would have been a public reprimand. The team dodged getting hit with the penalty retroactively by posting a single-year APR score of 917, the target USC set in its waiver, according to Sheley.

The Gamecocks' football team, which also relied on a waiver last year to escape a scholarship loss, bounced back with a single-year score of 960, its best since the NCAA began using the APR formula.

Steve Spurrier's team needed a 925 to avoid a retroactive penalty, and "blew that one out of the water," Sheley said.

Four teams achieved a perfect, single-year APR score of 1,000 (meaning every scholarship player remained eligible and stayed at USC): men's soccer, women's cross country, women's softball and women's tennis.

"We are very encouraged with the progress we are making across the board, especially with our football program," Hyman said in a release. "Although men's basketball is not where we would like it to be, I have been impressed with how that team performed in the classroom over the past two semesters. Darrin Horn is so committed to the academic success of his squad that I have complete confidence we'll see a dramatic improvement in the future."

The baseball team was the only other squad close to the 925 cutoff. Ray Tanner's squad posted a multiyear score of 926, which Sheley attributed to players who left as a result of the NCAA-mandated, smaller roster sizes for baseball.

"As soon as the legislation was announced (in 2007), kids that were going to come back decided not to," she said.

A total of seven SEC teams were penalized, including the men's basketball programs at Auburn, Tennessee and Arkansas, each of which lost one scholarship. Mississippi's football team had three scholarships cut.

Auburn was the SEC's most penalized school, with the men's track and swimming programs also losing scholarships.

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