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First-year players find ways to contribute

Lakeem Jackson knew he would play right away at South Carolina. That might be all that has gone as planned, however.

The 6-foot-5 freshman had no idea he would be warming up with the Gamecocks' big men before games. He didn't know he would be getting wacky suggestions on how to improve his 30 percent free-throw shooting.

"Trying to switch my hands," the left-handed Jackson said with a laugh. "Trying to bank it. All kinds of stuff."

That's the kind of season it has been for Jackson and the other three first-year members of USC's men's basketball team: at times frustrating, at times surprising - but, at almost all times, involved.

Jackson has started every game. Ramon Galloway and junior-college transfer Johndre Jefferson have started four games and one game, respectively, and emerged as key contributors.

Freshman Stephen Spinella has not started, but his minutes have increased gradually. He has moved ahead of senior Evka Baniulis - another shooting specialist - in the rotation.

What the newcomers have not done since the losses of Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes is replace their scoring. While senior guard Brandis Raley-Ross and junior center Sam Muldrow have increased their offensive production, others have been more quiet.

Jackson had 19 points in the loss to Baylor, but otherwise his season high is 11. Galloway is averaging 4.7 points per game in SEC play. Spinella has had spurts: six points in the victory against Georgia and five points in the loss at Florida.

But coach Darrin Horn said it would be expecting too much for them to do more. He's happy with Galloway's points-per-minutes average, an indication he might play more.

"But the other guys weren't recruited to score right away and are being thrust into a situation where if they do that (score), it sure helps a lot," Horn said.

Jackson's role changed when Archie and Holmes were lost. Jackson started the season as a wing but now plays almost exclusively in the post.

"I never thought I'd be playing the four position (power forward), playing down low with all those big guys," Jackson said. "That's the main thing, making that adjustment, having to think like a big man but also guard them."

Jackson's all-around skills have been evident: He is second on the team in rebounds, assists and steals and third in blocked shots. But his shooting struggles have been magnified, especially at the line, where he has made 15 of 50 attempts.

The 6-1 Galloway has played some point guard, but his main role has been to step in and hit shots. Horn has given him the green light, as he has with Jackson and his low-post offensive moves.

Horn told the freshmen that while they might not be able to replace Archie and Holmes' point total, they could replace their work habits.

"Mike and Dominique, that's what they did, they made effort plays," Galloway said. "That's what we talked about in the locker room - who's going to make effort plays and the hustle plays."

Jefferson moved up in the pecking order among post players. After playing sporadically early, he consistently has played 11-19 minutes per game in SEC play.

The 6-9 center is no scoring machine - other than a season-high 12 points against Richmond, he has not scored in double figures - and has a total of 16 points in SEC play. But he has become a presence in the middle, hauling in eight rebounds in the win against Kentucky and blocking four shots against both Baylor and Wofford.

Horn pronounced himself pleased with his first recruiting class.

"I think, all things considered, especially with what they got thrust into, they have fared pretty well," Horn said.

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