USC Men's Basketball

What will the Gamecocks look like in a post-Chris Silva era? Different, but fast

What Frank Martin said about South Carolina’s 2019 recruiting class

The University of South Carolina basketball team kicks off things in June with the arrival of recruits, Trae Hannibal, Tre Anderson and Wildens Leveque.
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The University of South Carolina basketball team kicks off things in June with the arrival of recruits, Trae Hannibal, Tre Anderson and Wildens Leveque.

Chris Silva is leaving South Carolina top 10 in program history in several categories, including points, rebounds and blocks. Earlier this month he became the first Gamecock in nine years to earn first-team All-SEC recognition in consecutive seasons. He’s the only USC player with an SEC Defensive Player of the Year award and a Final Four ring.

As Frank Martin put it Tuesday, the Gamecocks aren’t “replacing Chris by anybody on our team or by anybody coming in.”

Just plug in “Sindarius Thornwell” or “Michael Carrera” and you’ve heard Martin use that kind of line before. The decorated players that have come through USC over the last seven years don’t have clones ready behind them. A 6-foot-9, 234-pound highlight machine isn’t walking through the CLA doors next October.

So what will the Gamecocks look like without Silva?

“We have a lot of guys coming back,” Martin said. “I haven’t stuck my head in a pillowcase yet to try and figure out how next year’s team is going to play but when you return a bunch of players you kind of have a feel for the guys coming back. We probably won’t play solely through the low post next year. We probably need to play a little differently. We probably might evolve defensively because we have so many 6-foot-6 athletic guys.”

Martin has always trumpeted a “win at the rim” mentality for his teams. Silva embodied that with a physical and relentless attacking of the paint for the majority of his USC career.

This past season, however, the system had its tweaks. Silva, showing another reason why he could help an NBA team, made 50 percent of his career-high 46 3-point attempts. The additions of A.J. Lawson, Keyshawn Bryant and Tre Campbell — plus Hassani Gravett moving to his natural two-guard position — pushed the pace to where the Gamecocks, according to KenPom, played at the third-quickest tempo of any SEC team. Their possession length of 15.8 seconds was No. 1 in the SEC.

And this all came with only eight scholarship players available for the majority of the last two months of the year.

Give Martin the full allotment of 13 scholarship players and watch the Gamecocks wear out their opponents? In 2019-20, that’s a possibility.

“For sure, they could definitely do that,” Campbell said earlier this month. “There’s a lot of players next year. They could definitely do something like that. There’s a lot of pieces. There’s a lot of players on that team.”

Instead of a proven post threat, the offensive will likely center on a versatile wing in Lawson. The 6-foot-6, 172-pounder played point guard through small forward as a freshman, averaging 13.4 points and a team-best 2.9 assists per game. Bryant, Lawson’s classmate, could add to his 6-6, 190-pound frame and play some power forward in certain lineups. And then there’s the 6-5 Justin Minaya coming back from injury and the 6-4 Jermaine Couisnard and 6-3 Jair Bolden coming off redshirt years.

“The length and the athleticism,” Silva said earlier this month, “they’re going to take it to another level. Because what I see is Key and A.J. and the guards being experienced now in the system, they’re going to be like Duane (Notice) and Sin (Thornwell). They’re gonna to know what to do on the perimeter, which is going to make the game easier to play.”

The 6-5 Thornwell led the Gamecocks in rebounding as a senior in 2016-17 as USC won 26 games and advanced to the Final Four. Who takes over Silva’s role on the boards is a key question heading into next year.

Does that fall on the 6-9 Felipe Haase or the 6-11 Maik Kotsar? Or 6-10 incoming freshman Wildens Leveque?

“Felipe isn’t going to grab 16 in a game, I can tell you that right now,” Martin said. “But our best rebounder going into the (2018-19) season was Justin Minaya. He’s going to grab his fair share of rebounds. And when I say best rebounder I’m saying in practice pursuing the ball the best every day was he — not Chris.

“He’ll have something to say even though he’s a different player than Chris from a rebounding standpoint.”

Minaya, though, won’t be used like Silva. No one on the 2019-20 roster will.

Martin said the Gamecocks will begin experimenting in May.

“We’ll just be different,” Martin said. “In what way I don’t know. You don’t replace your leading scorer with a first year guy. If you do, then you don’t have a program. You’re building a team and I think we’re past those days here.”

During his post-season press conference, Head University of South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin talked about how he heard from his wife, that he was looking at a career change.

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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