Fifteen minutes after noon was late enough in Frank Martin’s Wednesday for the South Carolina basketball coach to no longer require caffeine to function. Cups of coffee had long been consumed by the time he arrived at Colonial Life Arena for a preseason news conference. He was on to coconut water.
“You guys just got up,” he said to a gaggle of local reporters. “I’ve been rolling since 6 o’clock.”
What followed was a near hour-long session that explained clearly the source of Martin’s energy: These 2019-20 Gamecocks have their coach wound up for what could happen over the next four months.
“I think this team has the possibilities of growing,” Martin said. “The ceiling for growth, there’s a lot of room there before we can even see the ceiling.”
Martin’s encouraged by his roster’s athleticism, work ethic and willingness to learn. But don’t let that get confused for a bunch with limited talent.
A..J. Lawson is a reigning All-SEC freshman team member who could very well go in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft. He’s a 6-foot-6 guard with proven ability to excel at any perimeter position. He spent parts of his summer training with Chris Paul and representing Canada on an international level.
Hasn’t mattered much so far.
“He’s a really good player, and after two practices if you walked in the gym and had never seen our team, you’re not able to see who A.J. Lawson is,” Martin said. “That’s how good the other guys are playing. There’s not a huge difference between guys.”
At least one national outlet (NCAA.com’s Andy Katz) has South Carolina returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2017 Final Four run. The 2018-19 Gamecocks fought to get in late Big Dance discussion, but a poor non-conference showing (see 5-8 record) proved too much to overcome.
Surest sign USC will avoid a slow start this year? Martin referenced continuity. Preseason 2018 meant blending an established Chris Silva with a variety of talented newcomers like Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant.
“Last year, a couple guys were really old and the majority of guys were really young,” Martin said. “You go through those challenges and that growth. This is the first time where I have a roster where I have a pretty good feel for everybody. I don’t know if that’s excitement, but having an understanding of how the guys I’m with are going to manage challenges gives me a sense of peace.”
South Carolina’s active roster was completed in May when Micaiah Henry joined the program as a graduate transfer from Tennessee Tech. The 2018-19 roster took until Lawson’s late June commitment to be completed. The previous team wasn’t set until Wes Myers came on board in mid-August 2017.
“It might be the first summer where our roster was intact where I wasn’t trying to recruit somebody for a scholarship,” Martin said. “Our roster was intact all summer.”
July’s SC Pro-Am saw eleven Gamecocks — the most in that event’s history — participate. Jermaine Couisnard, who only practiced last year due to an eligibility issue, introduced himself to locals with two 40-point outings. Jair Bolden, who sat last year after transferring from George Washington, averaged 17.3 points per game.
Both guards could start this season.
“Obviously I’ve been excited about this team since last year,” Martin said. “I saw the possibilities because we had a bunch of these guys in practice, even if they didn’t play in games last year. I had a feel for what it can be.”
What’s that mean? Martin didn’t set a number of wins or guarantee an NCAA Tournament appearance.
“I got no idea,” he said, “but I’m excited when I go to practice every day.”
Coconut water in tow.