USC Men's Basketball

Nine observations from South Carolina basketball practice

Frank Martin and the South Carolina men’s basketball team opened the Carolina Coliseum on Monday and allowed local media members to view 45 minutes of practice.

Some observations as the Gamecocks sit just under a month from the 2019-20 season opener against North Alabama:

Trae Hannibal spent the majority of his Hartsville High School career as one of the most physically imposing figures on the court. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound freshman is still impressive, but he blends in with his new teammates. These Gamecocks — average size: 6-6, 214 — are big. Wildens Leveque, Hannibal’s classmate, might tower above them all. The rookie from Massachusetts is hard to ignore.

Leveque has quickly earned a reputation for being among USC’s best rim protectors. While he didn’t block any shots Monday, his presence forced A.J. Lawson to short-arm a baseline floater.

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Before stretching, the Gamecocks went 5-on-5 while running a specific set off a baseline in-bounds pass. A highlight from the session: Alanzo Frink jumping between Leveque and Micaiah Henry for an offensive rebound. The sophomore then kicked out to Jair Bolden, who made a wing 3-pointer.

Henry, a graduate transfer from Tennessee Tech, was the last of this roster to officially arrive on campus. He didn’t get to Columbia until late August, missing summer workouts. It’s clear he’s still catching up to things. “Kay,” Martin barked, referring to Henry’s nickname, “we don’t have time for you to learn!” Henry, a candidate to start at power forward or center, averaged 10 points and five rebounds last year for TTU. “He’s making an adjustment,” Martin said last week of Henry. “He’s been playing for the last four years, the majority of the time, against teams where everyone’s 6-foot-7 on the front line. He has to learn how to make quicker decisions because there’s so much size, not just on our team but in SEC games. You don’t have as much time to score when you’re near the rim. You have to make quicker decisions.”

Martin was the loudest voice in the gym, but Bolden isn’t afraid to speak, either. Martin sat back at one point and allowed Bolden to direct traffic before in-bounding. After sitting out a season for transferring, the former George Washington guard appears comfortable in Martin’s system. Remember this as Bolden trends toward big point guard minutes.

Stretching lines were led by four-year starter Maik Kotsar and redshirt sophomore Justin Minaya. Martin spoke last week about Minaya’s continued leadership last season despite being sidelined by a knee injury. “His teammates respected the heck out of him,” Martin said. Minaya is back to 100 percent, but he practiced Monday sporting a sleeve on his left knee.

No lineup mysteries were revealed Monday, but when the teams split into guards and forwards, both Minaya and Keyshawn Bryant stayed with the guards. There’s a chance both get time this season playing the “four” or power forward spot.

Playing wing in an offensive zone drill, Hannibal took instruction from USC assistant coach Bruce Shingler. “Why are you wasting a dribble there?” Shingler asked, noting that Hannibal simply bounced the ball without a clear intention. The staff on Monday got after the seven new players more than the nine returnees. When Martin called out Leveque for being in the wrong position, Kotsar quickly showed the freshman where he needed to be.

Former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler watched practice.

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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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