USC Men's Basketball

‘He can really shoot it.’ USC’s ‘breakout candidate’ impresses former NBA coach

How MLB family ties helped Justin Minaya adapt at South Carolina

South Carolina basketball forward Justin Minaya is the son of former Mets GM Omar Minaya, and that helped him early as a Gamecock.
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South Carolina basketball forward Justin Minaya is the son of former Mets GM Omar Minaya, and that helped him early as a Gamecock.

In the Frank Martin era, only Sindarius Thornwell has logged more minutes as a South Carolina freshman than Justin Minaya.

Minaya started 30 of the 32 games he played in last season. Only four Gamecocks scored more points than him. Only two collected more rebounds. Only one hit more 3s.

“You guys heard me say this with P.J. Dozier,” Martin said in June. “When his freshman year ended, it was like someone took this big sack of bricks off his shoulders. Justin’s kind of the same way.”

It was an active winter for the player CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein has labeled as one of the SEC’s “breakout candidates” for 2018-19. Minaya, who averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds as a rookie, proved there’s star potential.

He recently continued on his path with a visit to Italy as part of the USA East Coast program. Minaya was on a national team of select college players who competed against professionals from Italy, Holland, Germany and the Netherlands. It went 2-2, wrapping play with a 69-67 win over Holland on Aug. 7.

Minaya scored 11 points in a team-high 20 minutes in the finale.

“He played very well for us,” coach Jim Todd said.

Todd has been an assistant coach for six different NBA teams since 1996, last appearing on the New Knicks’ sideline from 2012-14. He was the head coach for USA East Coast, a title Hall of Famer Larry Brown held during a three-day training camp session in New York City.

“We had about three to four practices at Columbia (University) and Coach Brown was good enough to be able to run those,” Todd said. “Unfortunately, he couldn’t make the trip and he asked me to take them.

“So now Justin’s got another coach he’s got to deal with. I tried to make an extension of Coach Brown the best I could.”

Taking from a small sample size, Todd came away with four main impressions about Minaya’s game.

“One, he shoots the ball well,” Todd said. “Two, he can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. Three, he’s willing to learn and obviously he’s coachable. Four, from the little I saw, he’s an excellent teammate.”

An improved shooting touch from Minaya this season is crucial to USC’s success. Frank Booker, whose 85 3s as a senior are the third-most in school history, has graduated, leaving the Gamecocks with a void on the perimeter.

Minaya shot 36 percent from 3 as a freshman.

“He can really shoot it,” Todd said. “He shot it off the dribble, he shot it off the catch. He certainly has a nice stroke.

“They (USC) can put him in the corner, wherever they want to put him in a drive and dish situation, and think he would excel at that.”

Guy Rancourt is the USA East Coast founder who helped form this year’s roster. Minaya, who played alongside Kansas’ Charlie Moore, Purdue’s Aaron Wheeler and Colorado’s Evan Battery, among others, was chosen, Rancourt said, because of his upside.

“He’s a really good player,” Rancourt said, “but I believe his better days are ahead. I was really impressed with his production from every game, but especially in the final game. He just elevated himself to making critical shots, making tough shots that helped seal a game that was actually close.”

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