Kory Holden dribbled twice between his legs near midcourt before slowly setting up his defender on the right wing. South Carolina basketball practice was in session and, this time, Holden wasn’t just a scout team player.
As the Gamecocks on Thursday made further preparations for the 2017-18 season, their touted transfer guard showed a sense of urgency at the Carolina Coliseum. Holden, after a year off because of his transfer from the University of Delaware, will soon debut for USC, giving fans something to judge beyond his offensive-heavy stat line as a Blue Hen.
From now until Monday’s exhibition against Erskine, however, Gamecock supporters must rely on hearsay and YouTube.
Holden scored nearly 900 points in his two seasons at Delaware. How is that going to translate to South Carolina? Thursday provided the following bit of possible foreshadowing: During a 3-on-3 drill, Holden slow-played Wesley Myers before driving hard through the lane. When the move forced Chris Silva to drop in for help, Holden kicked to the corner where Felipe Haase drilled an open 3-pointer.
Frank Martin clapped in approval.
The USC coach might not have Sindarius Thornwell, P.J. Dozier or Duane Notice anymore, but he does have a guy who made that trio better last season.
“The summer when he first got here, in individuals, I think everyone in this room saw it,” Martin said of Holden’s first impression as a Gamecock. “Sindarius and Duane were pretty good defenders, Kory would toy with them when he was on offense. He’d score on them and they couldn’t do anything.”
South Carolina lost 73 percent of its scoring and 81 percent of its assists from last season. It’s going to need Holden buckets and timely dishes. That’s a lot on a 6-foot-1, 197-pounder who’s making the jump from the Colonial Athletic Association to the SEC.
Holden’s leaned on Martin and last year’s stars to help with the transition.
“Sitting out was kind of hard,” Holden said, “but it was also kind of fun too, just being able to watch how (Martin) taught his point guards, what he wanted from P.J., what he wanted from Sin and Duane.
“So going against them every day was good for me, it helped me better myself defensively and offensively, just watching those types of players. And just building my relationship with Frank so that when it was time for me to step up on the court, we already knew what we needed to do as a coach and player.”
With key pieces gone from the Final Four team, South Carolina is full of unknowns as it enters this season. Martin this month has tried to ease those concerns by noting his track record when it comes to improving players from one year to the next.
But what about transfers finally touching the floor after a year off?
Denis Clemente, who joined Martin at Kansas State in 2007 after two seasons at Miami, led the Wildcats in scoring in 2008-09, averaging 15 points per game. That K-State bunch won 22 games and advanced to the second round of the NIT.
“I’m a big believer that you look at history to see how things are probably going to work out,” Martin said. “And if you look at my history with sit-out players in the past, they’ve had a lot of success from day one on the court. I think it’ll be the same way with him.”
Holden, a junior, is now fully recovered from knee surgery that limited his participation earlier this month.
Sophomore forward Maik Kotsar said Thursday that Holden’s “commitment to basketball is just phenomenal.”
Sports Illustrated on Wednesday predicted Holden would lead the Gamecocks in both points (14.5 per game) and assists (3.5).
Soon, he’ll be driving and kicking against actual South Carolina opponents.
“I’m just ready to get back on the court Monday with the team for the first game since I’ve been out for a year,” Holden said. “So that’s exciting.”