USC Men's Basketball

South Carolina's point guard debate: Can T.J. Moss deliver as a freshman?

T.J. Moss
T.J. Moss

When T.J. Moss first arrived at Findlay Prep, he was a two-guard who naturally looked to score. When Moss comes to South Carolina this summer, he’s a point guard who favors assists over points.

The Gamecocks are in need of an offensive conductor following Rakym Felder’s final departure from the program. Felder, who sat this past season, was potentially going to be the floor leader USC lacked in 2017-18. He flashed enough potential as a freshman to make Frank Martin still feel good about the position moving forward.

But the Carolina coach broke the Felder news last Monday. Moss, committed since April 15, signed with the Gamecocks a day later.

Suddenly, the ESPN-rated four-star recruit has a major opportunity waiting for him right away. Can Moss be a starting PG in the SEC as a freshman?

Findlay Prep coach Paul Washington, speaking to The State this week, provided a few reasons for USC fans to feel optimistic.

No. 1, Washington, this past season, oversaw Moss’ successful role transition. Coached by Penny Hardaway at Memphis East High School in Tennessee, Moss was one of the Mustangs’ top scorers from 2014-17.

“I really didn’t need him to score too much,” Washington said. “I was tough on him in the beginning and I kept trying to tell him, ‘You have a brighter future at point guard than at two-guard.’ So he finally bought into it and he did a great job with it, leading our team to No. 3 team in the country.”

Findlay Prep, located in Henderson, Nevada, is a perennial power with three national championships since 2009. Moss played on a team this past winter with Oregon-bound Bol Bol, Arkansas-bound Reggie Chaney, Texas Tech-bound Kyler Edwards and Cal-bound Connor Vanover, among others. The Pilots went 32-5 and advanced to the semifinal round of the GEICO High School Nationals.

Moss led Findlay in assists (6.2 per game). He was seventh in scoring (7.4).

“His mindset changed,” Washington said. “He looked at the game in the beginning as being a scorer. It was about scoring and how many points he averaged. At the end, it wasn’t about points. It was about assists and making the team better. Balanced scoring, but also limiting his turnovers and making people around him better.”

Moss is 6-foot-4, potentially giving Carolina its tallest point guard since 6-6 P.J. Dozier headlined the Final Four team in 2016-17.

Such length benefited the Pilots on both ends of the floor, Washington said.

“He’s a good defender, with his size,” Washington said. “He’s quick. He’s not the fastest kid, but he’s quick. He’s physical and he plays very smart and I like his wingspan. He was able to stay in the front of people.

“That wingspan as a point guard – and that size – kind of bothered people.”

Moss led Findlay in steals (1.6 per game). Dozier, at 1.7, was second on the Gamecocks in that category during his final year in Columbia.

“I take a lot of pride on defense,” Moss said. “I think it’s attractive to (Martin) because he’s a defensive coach. The more you play defense, the faster we can score the ball, the faster we can get out on the break.”

Moss, who picked USC over the likes of Alabama, Texas A&M, Memphis, will likely compete with rising senior Hassani Gravett for top PG minutes.

Gravett started 22 games last season, but is seen more as a two-guard. That’s a position, Washington said, Moss has distanced himself from.

“He’s a natural passer,” Washington said. “He’s got a good passion for the game, good IQ for the game and he’s just an unselfish player. And I think that’s what Frank and South Carolina really liked about him – his size and his ability to make others better around him.”