The South Carolina duo Frank Martin used the most as freshmen ended their careers five points shy of a national title game appearance.
Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice, long before they were competing in a Final Four, were deeply affiliated with a 14-20 season that produced a 13th-place finish in the SEC. The two were rookies in 2013-14, logging a combined 54.8 minutes per game. It took another four years for Martin to give a pair of freshmen anything close to that much run.
Justin Minaya (26.9) and Felipe Haase (19.6) averaged 46.5 minutes per game last season, giving them the title of second-most-used freshman duo of the six-year Martin era.
Minaya sits behind only Thornwell as the Gamecock to see the most minutes as a freshman under Martin. Haase is seventh on the list, ahead of the likes of P.J. Dozier, Chris Silva and Rakym Felder.
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USC hosts Augusta University at 6 p.m. Friday in an exhibition contest at Colonial Life Arena. Admission is free, giving Carolina fans an early opportunity to see steps taken in a couple careers crucial to the program’s future.
“We’re trying to improve,” Haase said.
That means everything from shooting to weight-lifting.
Both Minaya and Haase told reporters last week that they’ve added muscle to their frames. Minaya, a 6-foot-5 swingman who was a listed 210-pounder last year, is up 10 pounds.
“My body doesn’t take as bad of a beating,” Minaya said. “I used to be really sore after practice. I still am, but I’m able to deal with it a little better. … And just getting to the rim, also. I’m using my body better now and just getting to the rim.”
Haase, a 6-9 forward who came to Columbia with a profile that fits more of a perimeter-based player, has found himself staying in Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar territory more this preseason.
“My body changed, so I feel more comfortable playing inside-out,” Haase said. “I think I can do both. I feel comfortable doing both. And now that my body changed, I think I really can play from inside-out. Last year was outside-in.
“I feel more comfortable hitting people on the block and stuff. Overall, I think I can be more inside-out this year.”
Haase, who averaged 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds, attempted the third-most 3-pointers of any Gamecock last season. He made just 26.7 percent of them. Minaya, who averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds, took the second-most 3s of any Gamecock last season. He made just 36.4 percent of them.
The shooting numbers inspired offseason gym sessions. Haase and Minaya, with the Carolina Coliseum to themselves, created competition.
“Me and Felipe will go in there at night,” Minaya said, “and we’ll have this drill where we’ll be hitting 3s and together we got to hit 10 in a row, 11 in a row. And every time we get it, the next time we go, we gotta get it higher.
“So now we’re up to 14 or something. We got to keep going at that.”
Added Haase: “Always trying to do drills. Like game-type of drills, like where are we gonna get our shots off?”
South Carolina, a team that finished last in the SEC in field goal percentage last season, is in need of an improved perimeter presence. Frank Booker, who made 85 3s in his one year with the program, has departed, leaving USC without a proven threat.
Martin lists Minaya and Haase among the top candidates to help Carolina from deep.
“He’s at practice right now, that ball leaves his hands, it’s going in,” Martin said of Haase. “And he’s a lot more comfortable with battling around the basket and rebounding and getting shot attempts.
“We put too much attention on the ball going in the basket sometimes. It’s the guys that set the screens and post up and seal and create the angles for other people to attack that create those avenues. Chris is real good at that, Kotsar has gotten better at that. Felipe’s finally understood that.
“And now because he’s comfortable with those things, all of a sudden he’s having more success as a player from a skill standpoint.”
As sophomores, Thornwell and Notice helped a USC team win three more games than the season before. Should Minaya and Haase do the same, the Gamecocks will have 20 victories in 2018-19 and likely enter NCAA Tournament discussion.
“Those two guys are in a real good place right now,” Martin said. “I’m excited for them. Watching them in practice, I can’t wait to see them against another team to see if that same confidence goes on the court with them.”
Most used freshman duos during Frank Martin era
1. Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice in 2013-14 (combined 54.8 minutes per game)
2. Justin Minaya, Felipe Haase in 2017-18 (46.5)
3. Michael Carrera, Mindaugas Kacinas in 2012-13 (40.6)
4. Maik Kotsar, Rakym Felder in 2016-17 (38.8)
5. P.J. Dozier, Chris Silva in 2015-16 (32.3)
6. Marcus Stroman, Shamiek Sheppard in 2014-15 (27.4)