USC Men's Basketball

As USC moves on in post-Silva era, meet the freshman who has Frank Martin saying ‘Wow’

Chris Silva not only led South Carolina in blocked shots each of the last three seasons, he did it without serious competition. He had 36 more swats than any Gamecock last year, 28 more than his closest competitor the year before and 21 more than any one in 2016-17.

“A one-man blocking crew,” said USC coach Frank Martin.

The post-Silva era began Monday with Carolina’s first official practice of 2019-20. Naturally, the likes of A.J. Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant took advantage with fearless attacks of the rim and monster slams, exposing an obvious hole on the USC roster.

Or did they?

“Our guys drive to the basket,” Martin said Wednesday, “Wildens is coming to get it. Wildens doesn’t stand there and watch. He’s coming to get that ball.”

Wildens Leveque is the biggest of South Carolina’s five-man freshman class. The 6-foot-11, 230-pounder from Massachusetts studied tape of Silva before committing to the Gamecocks last October. A year later, he’s showing early signs of Silva-like ability.

“Chris is a good athlete,” Martin said on 107.5 The Game of the two-time All-SEC player who’s now with the Miami Heat. “He was strong and he could run. He was a real good jumper. But basketball’s a game you end up playing in confined space a lot of time, in traffic. And when Chris got in traffic, he didn’t move as well. He was strong as an ox. It was hard to move him. But he didn’t jump real well. He didn’t move in that traffic real good.

“These guys we got, they just go through stuff. Wildens Leveque at workouts (last week) was ridiculous. The plays he was making at the rim as far as rebounding and blocking shots ... I’m saying, ‘Wow.’”

Leveque averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game as a senior at Gould Academy in Maine. Asked by The State in May to best describe Leveque as a player, Gould responded, “volume rebounder, rim protector.”

Silva made a career off those traits. What Martin is seeing in Silva’s absence is a small army of Gamecocks working the glass and beyond.

“When rebounds come off the rim,” Martin said, “I’m used to seeing Chris Silva’s hands over the rim and, ‘All right, he didn’t get it, let’s hope it lands in our hands.’ There’s multiple hands up there going after the ball right now.”

Those keeping Leveque company at the rim, Martin said, range from seniors Maik Kotsar and Micaiah Henry (graduate transfer) to fellow rookie Jalyn McCreary.

The Gamecocks last season finished 11th in the SEC in rebound margin.

“There’s a competitive fight at the rim this year that we haven’t had since I’ve been here,” Martin said. “Whether it’s Kotsar, whether it’s Jalyn, whether it’s Wildens, Alanzo (Frink), Kay (Henry). It’s unbelievable. There’s a physicality at the rim we haven’t had since I’ve been here.”

South Carolina opens the season against North Alabama on Nov. 6 in Colonial Life Arena.

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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