Chris Silva spoke in the preseason about his daily at-the-rim meetings with Keyshawn Bryant. “He always tries to posterize me for some reason,” South Carolina’s most established dunker once said about the next-in-line.
So after Bryant wowed a Colonial Life Arena crowd of 10,145 in a Gamecock 65-52 win over USC Upstate, Silva wasn’t completely shocked. All that athleticism and aggressiveness had flashed in practice for weeks. Bryant scored 21 points from two dunks, two layups, four short jumpers and five three throws.
What did surprise Silva was Bryant did this in his college debut.
“A little bit half and half because he’s a freshman and had never played a game in college basketball,” Silva said. “To see him feel comfortable on the court, half and half, like I said. A little surprising, a little not.”
For comparison’s sake, Silva, an All-SEC forward and one of 50 players on the Wooden Award watch list, had 12 points and nine boards in his first college game. Sindarius Thornwell had 14 and four in his. P.J. Dozier had seven and three assists in his.
Bryant’s 21 points were the most by a Carolina rookie in his first game in the seven-year Frank Martin era. The previous Gamecock freshman to reach 20 points in any game was Rakym Felder on Dec. 27, 2016, against Lander.
Not bad for a 6-foot-6 wing who might have been misjudged as just an athlete playing basketball.
“He’s got a knack to score,” Martin said. “Some guys can jump and dunk, but they’ve got no feel how to score.”
Alex English scored 1,972 times in a Gamecock uniform. The Naismith Hall of Famer was on the SEC Network call of Tuesday’s game and raved about Bryant in a postgame segment.
“I’m excited for this young man,” English said. “He’s very athletic, got a lot of skill, knows how to get to the rim and finish. He did a great job of that tonight.”
Among USC’s five-man 2018 recruiting class, Bryant, a three-star prospect from Winter Haven, Florida, was rated fourth by 247Sports. He was the third Gamecock off the bench Tuesday.
“The scouting report wasn’t the fact that he was going to come in and have 21 points and seven rebounds,” said Upstate coach Dave Dickerson. “But the one thing I like about him is he’s a player — like we say in the coaching profession — he knows how his bread is buttered. And he does that. He’s a left-hand guy and he attacks the basket and he doesn’t try to do anything else.
“So when you have a guy that young that knows his strengths and weaknesses, then he has a chance to be a great player.”
Beyond the flash, Martin appreciated Bryant’s resiliency against the Spartans. He noted Bryant’s three offensive rebounds, his block and his overall response to a tough personal situation.
Bryant lost his great grandmother less than two weeks ago.
“Like I told him,” Martin said, “ ’Your growth as a kid, I’m proud of you that you dealt with that loss and yet you came here so focused to practice. But what you have to learn is when you practice and you’re engaged the way you were, it usually translates to good things in the game.’
“So I was happy for him.”
South Carolina returns to action Friday when it hosts Stony Brook at 7 p.m.