David Cloninger

Dozier explodes for 29 on first day of S.C. Pro-Am

South Carolina's P.J. Dozier scored 29 points in Day 1 of the S.C. Pro-Am.
South Carolina's P.J. Dozier scored 29 points in Day 1 of the S.C. Pro-Am. gmelendez@thestate.com

Basketball’s back – for a week or two.

The S.C. Pro-Am began its fourth season at Heathwood Hall on Sunday and my bleacher seat at the top of Heathwood Hall’s gym was as comfortable as usual. Carey "The Captain" Rich and his buddy Adam McDowell do a great job putting on the event, and although this year’s was cut to basically two weeks because of paperwork snafus (hold for stunned silence – the NCAA was involved with the delay), it was still a chance to see free hoops, and get an early look at South Carolina’s team this year.

Team members in the Pro-Am are: Marcus Stroman, Michael Carrera, Justin McKie, Duane Notice, Raymond Doby, Jamall Gregory, P.J. Dozier, Chris Silva and John Ragin. While the freshmen won’t be allowed to do interviews – Frank Martin’s long-standing rule prohibits freshmen from speaking to the media until after the first semester – the veterans can, and there’s no charge to watch anyone. And any day you get to see Devan Downey (a USC Hall of Fame inductee this year) play basketball is a good day.

An update on personnel:

Ragin (along with Jarrell Holliman) have joined the team as walk-ons.

Sindarius Thornwell (knees), TeMarcus Blanton (hip) and Brian Steele (knee) aren’t playing. They’re all healthy, but they don’t want to risk injury. Blanton remains a wait-and-see but Martin said the other day that the team trainer would have no problems clearing him for 100 percent participation. His injury is so unique to basketball players that they’re taking every available caution.

Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas are in Lithuania. It’s the only time during the year they can go home.

Eric Cobb is set to report to school in August.

DOBY certainly gives the Gamecocks something they haven’t had lately – a post player who draws a "Damn!" from everybody that sees him. Remember the forwards and centers USC has signed in the past? They were either tall stringbeans or mid-height widebodies? Doby is both – he’s tall (6-foot-7) and muscular.

His first basket Sunday was when he took a feed from Stroman while cutting left side, cocked the ball back in one hand and rammed it through the hoop. He’s quick enough to play on the wing (how much this season depends on how fast Cobb can develop as a center once he gets here) and he can at least stand his ground on the block. He’s also got a good step-back touch – he drained a 3-pointer from the corner with a hand in his face to close the first half. Doby ended with 22.

STROMAN has re-gained the weight he lost last year and is starting to fill out more. In that sense, perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that he got that throat infection – it taught him to eat right, to train and condition to build his muscles to get that weight back. He looks as fast as he ever was and continues to sucker defenders into collapsing on him, with a Stroman teammate on their back for a quick dish and score.

You could tell he’s still getting his stamina back, as his second half wasn’t as explosive or energetic. But once he gets a dose of Camp Greenawalt – USC’s preseason conditioning – he’ll be all right. He finished with 14.

SILVA is going to be something once he learns what he’s doing. He’s raw – athletic, knows what to do when he gets the ball in his hands under the basket (JAM it) and showed some good touch throwing rebounds downcourt for easy assists. But he’s still learning all of the nuances of the game, and he’ll have to refine his jump shot if he wants it to be a weapon. Right now, he’s kind of putting it up there from mid-chest with one hand.

But, Dozier fed him on a 2-on-1 break, and Silva had already taken off with the ball in the air, so he reached behind him with one hand, plucked it and shoved it through nylon. Took about three seconds. He’ll have his own cheering section this year. He scored 16.

GREGORY had a small game, but he’ll give Silva competition in the dunk contest. He and Dozier traded off in the final minute of their game, and the 6-4 Gregory did a chin-up on one rebounded slam. He might struggle for playing time at first but he can spell any of USC’s starting guards. Gregory had 10 points.

DOZIER – When he decides to take over, it’s really fun to watch. Fast, deceptive, can get to the rim or rain it from 3, Dozier showed some chops at point guard as well as filling the bucket. His 29 points ended with two rim-rattling dunks, but it started with some nice mid-range shooting. He makes up his mind that he’s going to dominate and then does it.

He’s going to give Martin options. He can back up Notice and Stroman at the point or play the wing. He and Thornwell could be a deadly 1-2 scoring punch but Dozier can also orchestrate the offense. The high-school knee injury may have taken away a couple of looks from the other schools, but Dozier’s game didn’t suffer – if he can keep this kind of athleticism up through a full collegiate season, the Gamecocks can at last be a multi-faceted scoring group, instead of "those three" or "you" having to take the ball in every crucial situation.

The Pro-Am resumes at 6:15 p.m. on Monday.

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