As South Carolina’s 2018-19 men’s basketball roster stood on April 23, Gamecock fans were crossing their fingers about what was to come next.
Rakym Felder was let go from the program that morning, leaving USC without an experienced point guard. Meanwhile, Chris Silva and Brian Bowen, the presumed vital pieces for success, were exploring NBA opportunities. The team’s confirmed leading returning scorer at the time was Maik Kotsar — at 8 points per game.
Just over two months later, the narrative has changed. Feel free to think optimistically about the Gamecocks after not only A.J. Lawson’s commitment, but what Frank Martin and his staff have accomplished in the aftermath of Felder’s dismissal.
A brief timeline:
May 8 – Tre Campbell, a point guard from Georgetown, commits to USC as a graduate transfer.
May 21 – Silva opts to return to USC for his senior season.
May 30 – Bowen, after learning he wouldn’t be eligible to play in college next season, turns pro.
June 1 – Trae Hannibal, a point guard from Hartsville, becomes the first member of USC’s 2019 recruiting class.
June 2 – Jair Bolden, a combination guard from George Washington, commits to USC as a traditional transfer.
June 2 – Keyshawn Bryant, a 6-foot-7 wing from Florida, commits to USC in ’18 class.
June 26 – Lawson commits, finalizes USC’s '18 class.
What these moves did for USC
▪ The Gamecocks got the experienced point guard they coveted. Campbell wasn’t producing at an eye-popping rate as a Hoya — 3.7 points and 1.3 assists per game — but the next game he appears in will be his 85th on the college level. That beats the likely alternative option of T.J. Moss getting heavy PG minutes as a freshman.
▪ Silva’s return means Carolina has a chance at having the SEC Player of the Year for the second time in three seasons. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds a game last season, despite still adjusting to being his team’s No. 1 option. He’ll enter his senior campaign as that centerpiece from the get-go. If he applies properly the feedback he received from NBA personnel, the Gamecocks will feature one of the league’s most dominant players on a night-in, night-out basis.
▪ The wing position is solidified with the additions of Bryant and Lawson. Whether that combination makes up for the departure of Bowen is up for debate, but at least the spot was addressed. Lawson was a top 40 player in the 2019 class — Bowen was a top 20 player in the 2017 class — before he reclassified to ’18. He’s a polished player who has excelled on the international level. Bryant, an explosive athlete, is a tad raw, but is a nice option off the bench.
Lawson and rising sophomore Justin Minaya can be interchangeable at both the small forward and shooting guard positions.
▪ The 2019-20 roster starts to take shape with Hannibal and Bolden. Bolden, who averaged more than 11 points per game as a sophomore at GW, will likely have more of an immediate impact, but Hannibal’s pledge could have more long-term benefits as he’s the first of the state’s top players in a loaded ’19 class to commit to a college. (He’s AAU teammates with Josiah James.)
What didn’t happen for USC
▪ A few hours after Hannibal’s announcement, D.J. Burns committed to Tennessee. Burns, of Rock Hill, was heavily targeted by the Gamecocks, but, like a number of past S.C. prep stars, chose to leave the state. The 6-9, 280-pound forward would have given Martin a natural replacement for Silva. Freshman Alanzo Frink, 6-6, 260, is now in that mold.
▪ Devonte Bandoo, one of the top junior college guards in the country, committed to Baylor after visiting South Carolina.
▪ Bowen never played in a game for South Carolina. When the five-month possibility became a reality, it wasn’t shocking. Bowen was deeply connected to the FBI case and the NCAA didn’t seem all that urgent in ruling on his eligibility. The departure stings, though, because of what could have been. The last McDonald’s All-American to play for the Gamecocks helped them reach the Final Four.
Top starting lineup options
1. PG Campbell, SG Minaya, SF Lawson, PF Silva, C Kotsar
2. PG Campbell, SG Jermaine Couisnard, SF Minaya, PF Silva, C Kotsar
3. PG Campbell, SG Hassani Gravett, SF Minaya, PF Silva, C Kotsar
Rising seniors (3): Silva, Gravett, Campbell
Juniors (2): Kotsar, Bolden*
Sophomores (3): Minaya, Felipe Haase, Jason Cudd
Freshmen (5): Lawson, Moss, Couisnard, Frink, Bryant
*Sitting out this upcoming season because of NCAA transfer rules
Note: Rising junior guard Evan Hinson's scholarship counts toward football.