Down to seven scholarship players for the final three games of the 2018-19 regular season, South Carolina coach Frank Martin was all but handcuffed when it came to quick-trigger substitutions. A bad turnover? That Gamecock got another chance. Defensive breakdown? That Gamecock’s next move wasn’t to the bench. A forced shot? He’d be out there to take another one.
“They could do back-flips when they dribbled,” Martin said, “and I couldn’t take them out of the game.”
A year later and the script’s about flipped in Martin’s program. As of early October, all 13 scholarship Gamecocks are healthy. Deciding which of them cracks the rotation is among the main storylines of the South Carolina preseason. It’s a challenge for both Martin’s staff and players.
“I think this team is going to have a personality of who we’re going to be from day one,” Martin said Wednesday. “The question is how do we handle things that are eventually coming?
“We’re going to play a game and everyone right now thinks he’s going to play 30 minutes a game. There’s not a guy out here right now who doesn’t think he’s not playing the whole game. Unfortunately they’re not going to all play 30 minutes a game. The ones that don’t get to play that amount of time early in the season, how do they handle that moment? I’m not sure.”
Over Martin’s seven years in charge of USC, he’s had seven players average at least 20 minutes per game five times. Those who have done it on this roster include Maik Kotsar (three times), Justin Minaya (twice), A.J. Lawson (once), Keyshawn Bryant (once) and T.J. Moss (for seven games last year before suffering a season-ending injury). Transfer Jair Bolden averaged 32.6 minutes a game for George Washington in 2017-18.
Kotsar, Minaya, Lawson and Bryant figure to stay high in Martin’s rotation. Bolden is a strong candidate to become starting point guard. That leaves a pool of forwards Micaiah Henry, Wildens Leveque, Alanzo Frink and Jalyn McCreary, and guards Jermaine Couisnard, Trae Hannibal, Trey Anderson and Moss.
“Frank has talked to us about that,” Kotsar said of minute sharing. “But I feel like at the end we got to understand that we’re competing with each other, not against each other. And we’re trying to make it as a team, not individually.”
Martin’s had at least 10 players log 10 minutes a game three times in his Carolina career. The fact this could be the fourth aligns nicely with a team that wants to go.
USC in 2018-19, despite depleted at the end by injury, had an adjusted tempo of 70.2 (number of possessions against a Division I school wanting to play at the average basketball tempo), good for second-quickest in the SEC according to KenPom.com.
“This team appears to be faster than last year’s team two days in,” Martin said. “Part of the reason it appears faster is because there are more guys. Because there are more guys, there’s an unbelievable competition to get on the floor. Everyone’s got their pedal to the metal and they’re going right now.”
Lawson confirmed as much Thursday.
“We have a lot of depth,” Lawson said, “so we’re not going to get tired that easily. We’re going to run the floor every time. That’s what I like to do.”