USC Men's Basketball

Brian Bowen, an improved test score and an opening. How USC landed Keyshawn Bryant

On the same day Keyshawn Bryant was South Carolina’s leading scorer in a statement win over Missouri, Brian Bowen logged 15 minutes for the Sydney Kings in their loss to the Illawarra Hawks.

One in Columbia, the other in Australia. One competing against Southeastern Conference competition, the other in the less-heralded National Basketball League.

A year ago, it would have been hard to envision either of these scenarios.

It was Jan. 10, 2018, when USC stunned many with its signing of a player whose McDonald’s All-American honor had already been replaced with something else at the top of his résumé.

Bowen was no longer the talented 6-foot-7 prospect who could play multiple positions. He was a reason why Rick Pitino was fired at Louisville.

The FBI’s probe into bribery and corruption into college basketball led to the exposing of Bowen’s father and allegations of accepting money from Adidas on his son’s behalf. Bowen was out at Louisville less than a semester after he enrolled. When he transferred to USC, it was never ensured he’d be eligible to play. On May 30, after the NCAA ruled he couldn’t touch the floor in 2018-19, Bowen turned pro.

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Three days later, South Carolina filled its open scholarship with a 6-7 wing from Winter Haven, Florida.

“If Brian would have been declared eligible,” Carolina coach Frank Martin said Monday, “I wouldn’t have had a scholarship. So Key wouldn’t be here.

“But that’s the way it works.”

While Bowen’s situation played out mostly in the public eye, Bryant, once a top 150 player, was busy under the radar with his own challenge. Bryant was available last spring partially because he wasn’t qualified academically for Division I programs during the fall signing period.

Junior colleges wanted Bryant right away, Winter Haven coach Tyrone Woodside told The State, but patience won out. An improved ACT score opened more options.

Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin contacted Woodside. Ole Miss, after Kermit Davis took his staff to Oxford from Middle Tennessee, remained in the mix. Tulane was hosting Bryant when the Bowen news trickled out.

“We got word to his high school coach,” Frank Martin said. “Like, ‘Hey, this just happened. So whenever he’s done on his visit, let him know that we’re in.’ And when he completed his visit, his dad called that next day.”

Bryant didn’t have a ton of USC knowledge at the time, but Woodside had long been connected to Martin through his cousin, Anthony Grant. Grant, now the head coach at Dayton, goes back to Miami Senior High with Martin. He’s the godfather to Martin’s oldest son.

Woodside’s relationship with Martin grew when Martin was recruiting former Winter Haven guard DeVon Walker to play for Kansas State.

“The big issue with Keyshawn was he knew what he was capable of doing,” Woodside said. “I really wanted him to challenge himself. It was going to be good to play in the SEC, but I told him that Frank was going to push him to his limits and be everything he could be.

“My desire was for him to play for Frank.”

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Bryant first appeared to the Carolina staff during the 2016 Bojangles Bash when he was a member of Huntington Prep (W.Va.). He scored 26 points in a loss to Jalek Felton and Gray Collegiate.

“I was told by one of the (USC) assistants,” Woodside said, “that Frank came back and told his coaching staff, ‘I don’t know who this kid is, but this kid can play for us.’”

Bryant eventually transferred back to Winter Haven for his senior season. Carolina aide Bruce Shingler became his lead recruiter, doing what Martin called an “unbelievable job in building a relationship.”

The match, though, wasn’t complete until the Gamecocks had an opening.

“We were waiting on the Brian Bowen situation,” Bryant said. “I got the call that they were ready for me and I came up right away.”

A USC visit led to a commitment and signing. Seven months later, Woodside watched alongside 40 Bryant supporters in Gainesville as their favorite Gamecock battled through early adversity to make three clutch buckets in a dramatic Carolina victory.

Bryant will make his 10th straight start Wednesday as the Gamecocks (8-7, 3-0 SEC) try to run their win streak to four at Vanderbilt (9-6, 0-3).

“If he would have qualified early,” Woodside said, “he would have been someplace else. God kind of worked everything out.”

NEXT GAME

Who: South Carolina (8-7, 3-0) at Vanderbilt (9-6, 0-3)

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville

TV: SEC Network

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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