That’s the question hovering over the South Carolina men’s basketball team until it reconvenes. Coach Frank Martin knows he’ll have some pieces – and some proven, strong pieces – for his fifth team, but after a month where six of his players were disciplined by either the police or Martin, he doesn’t know what he’ll be able to add around them.
Martin’s recruiting, as every coach is this time of year, but he has to approach it with more urgency than normal. He needs players, ones that can suit up next year, leading him to scour JUCO ranks and unsigned high school seniors instead of the transfer list. What he finds might impact which of the remaining four disciplined players (Eric Cobb and Jamall Gregory are already gone) he’d feel comfortable bringing back.
It was a sour way to end a wonderful season, where the Gamecocks set records for wins and sent a group of seniors out with the knowledge they accomplished something positive. It was going to be tough to replicate a 25-win campaign without Michael Carrera, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas, and now it may be tougher.
Martin signed on for the duration, agreeing to a four-year extension that keeps him in Columbia through 2022. He’ll have star seniors – in Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice – and sophomore P.J. Dozier to depend on, and he’s already added two freshman bigs – Sedee Keita and Maik-Kalev Kotsar – that can at least fill the size gaps left by Carrera, Chatkevicius and Kacinas.
As for who else comes aboard? We’ll wait and see.
Martin has a foothold to start building, and it’s a strong one. Thornwell, Notice and Dozier are returning guards, and he can tailor his team around them.
Martin has always liked to get the ball to the big man, he might not be able to depend on that at first in 2016-17. His bigs at present are freshmen, Keita’s a defensive maestro still learning to play offense and Kotsar’s a product of Estonia who might have the same learning curve as the two departed Lithuanians – learning to play like a big instead of a guard. The only other definite returnee is Jarrell Holliman, a 6-foot-7 walk-on who played in four games last year.
Knowing that, Martin might ask his guards to control the pace and drive to the rim more instead of looking to pass inside. That definitely aids Dozier, an athletic guard who’s at his best when he can run from the top. Thornwell and Justin McKie can do that as well, which leaves Notice to camp on the outside for a 3-pointer.
The new bigs can begin to learn their way around by first trying for stick-backs, then learning to play back-to-the-basket. If Chris Silva returns, that adds a game-changer to the mix – Silva attacks rims on each end, supplying an above-the-rim presence that Martin cherishes.
With the guards leading the way, the Gamecocks could become more athletic and fast-paced, taking away the need for a dependable outside shooter. Martin has to coach what he has, and what he definitely has is strong guards.
The rest of the roster is an ongoing question. If Marcus Stroman returns, he brings a steady presence to the point and at times, an option to take a long rebound and whip past the defense for an easy deuce. Stroman’s tough, a player who can take over if Dozier gets in foul trouble, and while Thornwell can play at the point in relief of Dozier (or both), the best option for USC is to leave Thornwell on the wing.
TeMarcus Blanton, even if he hadn’t gotten into trouble, was always going to be a question. While his hip has recovered, he’s not the player he was, and there’s no telling if he ever will be. While he’s physically OK, he’s still learning how to play on it.
Raymond Doby could supply a strong presence if he returns. He can play inside and out, and is strong enough to take a beating in the post, but still finish a shot.
Martin’s facing many questions. He’d like to peruse the transfer list, but it’s a gamble – the great majority of players have to sit a year, but still use a scholarship. Most of the players eligible for next year signed in the fall.
It’s always a tricky proposition for a coach to depend on what he thinks he has coming back – as he’s said, mentor Bob Huggins thought he had a roster once until two of his best players came to him in mid-summer and said they were leaving – but it’s the way things have happened. It wasn’t Martin who got the six in trouble, but he has to deal with the aftermath.
Coaches are always recruiting. Martin’s recruiting for next season has been extended this year.
It’s nothing he isn’t used to, but something he’d rather not have to deal with after a breakthrough season.
USC MEN’S BASKETBALL 2016-17
G TeMarcus Blanton, RSo. *
Tough for him to find minutes after a unique injury
F Raymond Doby, So. ^
Strong enough to supply a paint presence if he returns
G P.J. Dozier, So.
Flashy guard who will only get more comfortable
F Jarrell Holliman, RJr.
May have to play a few minutes each game
F Sedee Keita, Fr.
Newcomer who will challenge for team’s lead in blocks
F Maik-Kalev Kotsar, Fr.
Estonian forward who can play inside and out
G Justin McKie, Sr.
Athletic guard who’s still searching for consistency
G Duane Notice, Sr.
Outside threat who has become a reliable source of offense
G John Ragin, So.
Local walk-on who helps PG depth
F Chris Silva, So. *
Rim-eater who stays in the rafters
G Marcus Stroman, Jr. *
Steady at the point and can often fool defenses with his speed
G Sindarius Thornwell, Sr.
Most indispensable player who wants an SEC Player of the Year season
* Indefinitely suspended ^ Status unclear
(Note: Fr. G Rakym Felder has committed to USC for next year
but hasn’t signed)