Jair Bolden and Jermaine Couisnard took their seats at the end of South Carolina’s bench and craned their necks. Past their teammates, past Frank Martin, past the scorer’s table and well past the opposing coach sat their mythical competition.
Bolden and Couisnard could easily spot them because they dressed alike. Team-issued hoodies and sweatpants, attire that confirmed they wouldn’t be getting in the game that night.
“Man,” Bolden would say to Couisnard, “we’d kill their scout team.”
OK, so the latter of these honors is highly unofficial and doesn’t actually exist, but Bolden coined it and no Gamecocks have disputed its legitimacy. Justin Minaya said Bolden and Couisnard combined to average 30 points a practice against Carolina’s regulars. Nathan Nelson said Bolden and Couisnard would go periods without missing a shot. Keyshawn Bryant got borderline annoyed by their competitiveness.
“We’d be like,” Bryant said, “‘Can y’all two just calm down? Y’all wearing us out right now. We just got done playing a game.’
“They didn’t care. They were just happy to be on the court.”
Bolden couldn’t play in 2018-19 because of NCAA transfer rules. An academic issue kept Couisnard sidelined. Both situations frustrated the talented guards in similar ways. Lifelong basketball players were forced to go an entire season without being allowed in a game.
But instead of moping about it, they made the best of it. They couldn’t play for the Gamecocks, but they could help them by being their opponents in practice.
“Scout team, you basically go back to playing in the park,” Bolden said. “You’re just playing, just going out there trying to score. There’s structure, but at the end of the day, you’re just playing offense as aggressive as you can. So we were going out there and just talking trash to guys and playing hard. Practice for us was our games last year. So we took all of that seriously.
“I guess it was a release to be able to get our competitive juices out because we didn’t have the games. Like (Bryant) said, we probably were a little annoying at times because we were locked in like it was a game. But we think it made them better.”
Bolden’s favorite scout to run was Wofford because “me and Jermaine could take any shot we wanted when we were Wofford. It was pretty fun.”
Couisnard’s favorite scout to run was Auburn because he noticed how the Gamecocks benefited from their look in their 80-77 upset of the 16th-ranked Tigers on Jan. 22.
“We were just getting up and down the court and shooting,” Couisnard said. “So I guess they caught on to it, and then they went out there and performed.”
While the 2018-19 Gamecocks remained focused on a strong finish, some couldn’t help but think about the following season. Guys like Bryant and Lawson were returning, sure, but Bolden and Couisnard were becoming eligible.
“It was tough because we were playing like a good player every day,” said Minaya, the redshirt sophomore swingman who went down with a knee injury in November. “So they gave you like a real live competition. Just seeing them play, it was like, ‘Damn, these aren’t just like regular scout guys, like walk-ons. They’re like real players we have to come and guard every single day.’
“Also, being hurt and seeing it on the sideline, you can even watch it more. Like, these are real players. It made me realize how good of a team we were going to have this year because those two guys were just killing it in practice.”
Bolden, a point guard from New York by way of George Washington, and Couisnard, a two-guard from East Chicago, developed a chemistry that’s only increased since they’ve graduated from the scout team this preseason.
“They both bring the same energy and they’re both two really competitive guys,” said Nelson, a walk-on and former scout teammate of Bolden and Couisnard’s. “So they help practice out a lot. Now especially that they’re both going to be playing, they’re even more invested into practice and what’s going on. They’re both going to be really good.”
As South Carolina backcourt mates. Not South Carolina practice opponents.
“Last year we were Scout Team All-Americans,” Bolden said. “This year? Hopefully, we’re All-Americans.”