USC Men's Basketball

Inside the game that changed Patrick Iriel’s recruitment — and led to his USC commitment

What Frank Martin thinks of in-state recruiting and USC’s efforts to keep players home

South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin goes deep on recruiting the state and the Gamecocks' historical success of keeping prospects at home.
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South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin goes deep on recruiting the state and the Gamecocks' historical success of keeping prospects at home.

Real-time reaction to his son’s best game on the AAU circuit arrived on Jamie Iriel’s phone at some point on the night of April 27.

Though they were in different seats, Iriel and Chuck Martin were in the same Dallas gym for Upward Stars’ matchup with California’s Dream Vision. Upward, based out of Spartanburg and filled with South Carolina’s best players, was facing a team with a couple of the country’s best players.

Dream Vision had Makur Maker, ranked by 247sports composite as the fifth-best prospect in the 2020 class, and Isaiah Cottrell, ranked 64th and committed to West Virginia. Upward had P.J. Hall, Myles Tate, Dillon Jones and Patrick Iriel.

When the star-studded game turned briefly into a one-man show, Jamie Iriel felt a buzz and opened a text message from one of the several dozen college coaches in the room.

Woah. I knew this was coming, I knew this was coming!

Patrick Iriel’s pledge to USC on Tuesday can be directly linked to that late April evening in Texas. The final stat line wasn’t jaw-dropping for the A.C. Flora product — nine points, three rebounds, five blocks — but one early stretch was enough for Martin to let Iriel’s father know his son was impressing, and the Gamecocks were noticing.

“We’re playing one of the best teams on the Adidas circuit,” Jamie Iriel told The State. “And we started off slow. And about five minutes, six minutes into the game is when Patrick had his run. He blocked Makur Maker on one shot and then he’d go down the court and come back. And then something else happened and he got those three dunks in a row — one over Makur and one over the Cottrell kid and then I think the third one was back over Makur again.

“So it was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ Patrick, he’s got a ton of potential. He’s good, he’s athletic, but offensively he’s more of a role kid and has done things that’s been asked of him. At that moment, it was like, ‘OK, we know that he knows he can play with the best kids in the country.’

“So during that game, I’m getting a text from Chuck Martin. He’s like, ‘Woah. I knew this was coming, I knew this was coming!’”

The 6-foot-10 Iriel chose the Gamecocks over finalists Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, College of Charleston and Southern Cal. Offers from those schools — and others — rolled in after his performance in Dallas.

“Before that game, I only had one offer (USC Upstate),” Iriel said, “and then everything just really picked up from there. So it was huge for me.”

Rivals recruiting analyst Corey Evans was at that game and tweeted later, “Patrick Iriel is going to be one of the more heavily but newly tracked big (men) off the east coast after this week. Athletic, instinctive and always in the play. Super limited recruitment about to be no longer for the @UpwardStarsSE bunch.”

Upward Stars coach Curt Wheeler called it Iriel’s “I’ve arrived” moment.

“Patrick was our best player that game,” Wheeler said. “He defended the rim, protected the rim well, he rebounded at a high level. And Dream Vision, you gotta understand, they’re like 6-5, 6-6, 6-10, 6-10, 6-10. Like, that’s their starting lineup. It’s ridiculous.

“But Patrick was one of the best bigs on the floor in that game. Anybody who watched that game, they were just like, ‘Who’s that kid? He’s athletic.’ He was rebounding, he was dunking. He had a big-time dunk over somebody. He was outstanding.”

What Chuck Martin saw that night was a flash of what he felt Iriel could be at the next level. On a floor full of future Division I players — and fellow USC targets — Iriel stood out.

“The A.C. Flora coach, Josh Staley,” Jamie Iriel said, “had already told us, ‘Hey, look, Frank (Martin) has been watching Patrick since he was a freshman.’ So the involvement was already there.

“But they reached out and Chuck said, ‘Hey, man, Patrick’s blowing up. I’m calling Frank now, I’m letting him know.’ And then I got a text from Frank going, ‘Hey, I heard Patrick went crazy.’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he was like, ‘I’m coming by to see him.’ And he came through that day or the next day.

“I had spoken with the College of Charleston a little bit earlier. But South Carolina was really first from Dallas to reach out. And that was special. It’s the hometown.”

Gamecock coaches stayed on Iriel through the AAU season. They saw him play some six games with A.C. Flora during team camp in June at the Carolina Coliseum.

A USC scholarship offer finally came last Thursday. He had already visited Georgia Tech by then and official trips to Cincinnati and Charleston were on the schedule. Didn’t matter.

“Deep down in Patrick’s heart, that was kind of his dream school,” Jamie Iriel said. “But he wasn’t going to say, ‘Man, I sure wish South Carolina would offer,’ because he had so much going on. But once South Carolina offered, he’s been nothing but grins. He’s been a different cat. It’s a good fit and we feel good about it.”

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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