For a 39-second stretch of the second half, South Carolina was facing a reigning NCAA tournament team with five freshmen on the floor.
Frank Booker checked out of Sunday’s exhibition game against Virginia Tech with 10:36 remaining. The senior slapped David Beatty’s hand on his way off the court. The rookie Beatty was now sharing the backcourt with classmate Justin Minaya. Ibrahim Famouke Doumbia was at small forward. Felipe Haase was at power forward. Jason Cudd was at center.
USC coach Frank Martin let it play out for two possessions. Famouke Doumbia missed a 3-pointer on one end. Beatty committed a shooting foul on the other.
The Fab Five comparison ended.
The Gamecocks will play for real Friday at Wofford. Tip-time for the 2017-18 opener is 7 p.m. at the new Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. Don’t expect Martin to fully stretch the limits of his roster – such as the example above – but don’t expect him to stop experimenting, either.
It’s the reality the veteran coach faces as South Carolina enters a new year with eight new players.
“I’ve got to prepare a whole team,” Martin said Wednesday at Colonial Life Arena. “Early in the year I play a lot of guys, I’ve always done it and I’ll continue to do it. And it’s my job to prepare everyone on our roster to help us at one point or another during the season.
“And I’ve got to do that without hurting our opportunities to win. But that’s my job. I’ve got to take care of that.”
Martin used the same starting lineup – P.J. Dozier, Duane Notice, Sindarius Thornwell, Chris Silva, Maik Kotsar – in 70 percent of its 37 games last season, including all five NCAA tournament contests.
It’s likely Silva and Kotsar will be the starting frontcourt again. It’s also likely Hassani Gravett, who made three starts in 2016-17, will get first crack at point guard responsibilities. Delaware transfer Kory Holden could get the next crack. Same goes for Florida Atlantic transfer Booker and Maine transfer Wes Myers.
Minaya – against Erskine – and Haase – against Virginia Tech – were the only freshmen to start in the exhibition season.
“We’ve got to figure all that out,” Martin said. “And because of how we play, we need depth. My first two and a half years here, we had no depth. It was hard to play the way we wanted to play. But it’s all right, we figured it out. We managed it, we dealt with it. Now we’ve got depth.
“We’ve got to utilize that depth and grow and help them be prepared.”
The spotlight might shine a little brighter on Gravett. The 6-foot-2 junior committed more turnovers (nine) than assists (six) in the exhibition games.
In the 86-67 loss to the Hokies, Gravett had more turnovers (four) than points (two) in the first half. Naturally, such a showing didn’t sit well with Martin.
“And I kind of challenged him a little bit,” Martin said.
Gravett didn’t have a turnover over the game’s final 20 minutes. He finished with a team-high 15 points.
“Being a leader of the team, you’ve got to do stuff like that,” Gravett said. “You can’t dwell on the past mistakes that you made in games. You’ve just got to keep leading and pushing forward. The more I’ve gotten to know Frank, he’s going to yell at us or whatever, but you just keep playing.”
True test No. 1 comes Friday.
“I could have nine seniors, and I’d have concerns going into the season,” Martin said. “That doesn’t change the optimism that I have for our basketball team.”
USC at Wofford
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Wofford’s Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium (3,400 capacity)
How to watch: ESPN3.com