USC Men's Basketball

What Chris Silva's return means for South Carolina basketball

Martin: If Silva, Bowen come back, 'it's more than their talent'

USC basketball coach Frank Martin talks about Chris Silva's development into a star player.
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USC basketball coach Frank Martin talks about Chris Silva's development into a star player.

In two games against South Carolina last season, Georgia’s Yaten Maten totaled 38 points and 18 rebounds. Robert Williams’ 11 points, nine rebounds and five blocks helped Texas A&M to an 83-60 win against the Gamecocks on Feb. 3.

A season earlier, Jaron Blossomgame had 15 points and 10 boards as Clemson squeaked by USC at Colonial Life Arena.

Chris Silva on Monday joined a list that includes the above names. He, like the All-SEC and All-ACC opponents before him, opted to return to school after declaring for the NBA draft.

The announcement came with little surprise. Despite his contributions to Carolina’s 68 wins over the past three seasons, the explosive 6-foot-9, 223-pound forward doesn’t quite yet have the skill set that translates to the next level. He wasn’t invited to last week’s NBA combine, a sign that he wasn’t destined to be taken in next month’s two-round draft.

But Silva wasn’t ignored throughout the process. After deciding to test the professional waters — without hiring an agent — on April 17, he worked out for the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets.

It’s in that feedback where both he and USC can benefit in 2018-19.

“Chris Silva’s going back to South Carolina next year,” tweeted The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie. “Think he’s a sneaky top-30 player or so in the country going back to college hoops off the top of my head. Really, really productive guy.”

Silva is already among the school’s all-time top 10 in career blocks (seventh), free throw attempts (seventh) and free throws made (fifth). He’ll easily crack the top 10 in career rebounds and games played.

He has a chance to lead the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding two consecutive seasons. That hasn’t happened in Columbia since Carlos Powell from 2003-05.

Such productivity will be required for a team that’s not likely to have high preseason expectations. USC missed the NIT in 2017-18 and must replace its best perimeter shooter (Frank Booker) and will be working in a new point guard (either freshman T.J. Moss or graduate transfer Tre Campbell).

Of course, expectations can be altered should USC receive the services of Brian Bowen, the former McDonald’s All-American who joined Silva as Gamecocks to declare for the draft.

Bowen must make his stay or go-pro decision by May 30. (The NCAA still hasn’t ruled on Bowen’s eligibility status.)

“Me and Chris had the same workout when we were in Brooklyn,” Bowen said during the combine. “So it was good just to see him, see a familiar face around. That’s my guy, for sure.”

Combining the two would give Carolina a dynamic wing-post combination. Bowen’s presence — a 6-7, 202-pounder who can play multiple positions — could free Silva from the double teams he saw the majority of last season. Silva, being the No. 1 offensive option for the first time in his career, led the Gamecocks in 10 categories last season, including turnovers.

“One of the things that creates up and downs in a player’s performance is their mental maturity,” USC assistant Perry Clark said in March. “And I think what you’re talking about, especially when you talk about his newness to the game or his youth, is his mental maturity to prepare himself for different things. Because, all of a sudden, he becomes a focal point, so now he’s getting doubled. OK, now they’re really working hard to not let him get the ball where he wants or they’re taking him away.

“Now the ability to make adjustments through our sets and through our offense, he has to be able to recognize and pick up. And that’s where I think, at times, he’s had problems, which has created the turnovers.”

Silva battled through to earn first-team All-SEC honors. Cut down on the turnovers, foul less and captain the Gamecocks back into NCAA Tournament discussion, and he’s got a chance to follow Maten as SEC player of the year.

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