Brian Bowen won’t be with South Carolina’s basketball team Saturday at Georgia when the Gamecocks try for their second SEC win this season. The former McDonald’s All-American and highest ranked recruit to ever sign with USC can’t help them Tuesday, either, when longtime league power Kentucky comes to Colonial Life Arena.
Carolina is 10-6 and losers of four of its past five games against Division I opponents. Coach Frank Martin on Friday argued against the notion the Gamecocks are having a down season, noting, “You don’t win 10 games in early January and you’re having a down year.”
USC was 13-3 (4-0 SEC) at this stage of last season. Flash ahead to this point next year and perception is the Gamecocks, with additions of Bowen and Rakym Felder, could be back to that kind of record.
So what’s to make of Carolina in the meantime? Martin expects improvement – and Bowen can be a big reason why.
The 6-foot-7 Louisville transfer was expected to begin practicing with the Gamecocks on Friday.
“We get another real good player on the court,” Martin said. “That means now when you compare in practice, you’re comparing against that level of a player, which is important.
“But he doesn’t know what we do, so it’s going to take time for him to understand our concepts and terminology and things of that nature.”
The 2017-18 Gamecocks have been defined by new faces and key injuries.
USC features eight players on this year’s team who weren’t available in 2016-17. Justin Minaya, a starter on the wing, is one of three freshmen locked in Martin’s rotation.
Kory Holden, a junior transfer who came to Carolina from Delaware with a high scoring reputation, was slowed by a knee injury before being sidelined with a hamstring strain last month. Starting point guard Hassani Gravett missed USC’s first three SEC games with a sprained ankle.
Bowen’s presence, in the very least, gives Martin an extra body to use.
“Now at practice, Justin Minaya has to guard (Bowen) every single day,” Martin said. “I’ve had to practice (former USC player and now graduate assistant coach) Justin McKie for the last seven, eight days. There’s nothing wrong with that – I’m not trying to take a shot at Justin – but it’s not like Justin had been preparing to be at practice up until seven days ago.”
Bowen, ESPN’s No. 14 rated recruit in the 2017 class, averaged 21 points and seven rebounds per game as a senior at La Lumiere High School in Indiana. La Lumiere won the high school national championship last April.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” Martin said. “I watched him play in high school, I watched him play summer ball. You can actually put him at point guard if you wanted to. He’s multi-skilled.
“He’s a great team player. He’s not one of these guys that just plays for himself. He plays with teammates. He’s humble. Very talented. Offensively, very gifted. Can really shoot, really pass. He’s in that 6-7, 6-8 range. He’s good. He’s a very, very talented player.”
Who – if all goes according to South Carolina’s plan – can’t help the Gamecocks in games until next season.
The current Gamecocks are 5-point underdogs to Georgia (11-4, 2-2).
“People that want to complain that there’s no excitement about our team, that’s because they don’t pay attention,” Martin said. “I’m not trying to be a smart-aleck to you, I’m telling you the truth. I’m not consumed with people being excited about our team. I’m consumed with our players being excited about our team. And those guys are.
“And then, when you add the personality and the toughness of Rakym Felder to your practices, the leadership qualities that he has, and a young man like Brian, the talent that he is, it’s going to make our team better, which is what matters to me.”