Wildens Leveque is a promising South Carolina forward with enough size and athleticism to make an immediate impact on the Gamecocks. But he’s also a freshman going through his first preseason with Frank Martin.
The USC coach was reminded of the latter during a recent practice when his rookie big man was struggling with recall.
“Wildens Leveque the other day couldn’t remember something that we’ve been running every day since the first day of practice,” Martin said Monday. “So the next day, I brought our play card from the end of the season last year and I showed it to him in front of everybody. I said, ‘Look at this.’ I said, ‘You can’t remember the one thing we practiced every day for three weeks? How are you going to remember this by the end of the season?’
“I thought his eye balls were going to pop out of his head.”
Leveque is one of seven new scholarship players — four true freshmen, one redshirt freshman and two veteran players — Martin is likely to debut Wednesday when the Gamecocks host Columbia International in a 7 p.m. exhibition game. While they’re all part of USC’s lauded depth advantage, their progression can take time. And some are more ahead than others.
This is what Martin has learned through a month of practice.
“Some guys have taken huge steps forward,” Martin said. “Some guys haven’t regressed, they’ve just kind of stayed neutral.
“So I’m a little disappointed. Obviously, I’m not going to share who. I think you guys will figure that out once we take the court. I’m a little disappointed that a couple guys that I thought would be more prepared to help us in November, I don’t think they’re going to be ready to help us in November. That doesn’t mean I’m down on them. I’m just disappointed because I created expectations for myself that probably I shouldn’t have done.”
But this isn’t to say Martin’s optimism about these Gamecocks has taken a severe dip. USC, according to Martin, showed well in its closed scrimmage with Illinois on Sunday. Martin said the Fighting Illini, picked to finish seventh in the Big Ten and led by former Carolina assistant Brad Underwood, “schemed” up the USC offense and the Gamecocks adjusted accordingly.
“They weren’t letting us do certain things to try and play offense a certain way, so we had to play,” Martin said. “Which I was real happy that we were able to do that. Last couple years we would have gotten very stagnant. Yesterday we kept playing, so I was happy to see that.”
With no video or box scores to confirm, there’s no way of knowing exactly which Gamecocks excelled against the Illini. But a sampling of players Martin’s been pleased with this preseason: A.J. Lawson, Maik Kotsar, Keyshawn Bryant, Jermaine Couisnard and Justin Minaya.
“The returning players are all better basketball players,” Martin said. “That’s the part that gets me excited.”
True freshman aside, Couisnard, Jair Bolden and Micaiah Henry are the other new Gamecocks this season.
Couisnard sat last year, but gained experience as one of USC’s top scout team players.
“Jermaine Couisnard is a lot more prepared earlier in the year than I thought he was going to be,” Martin said of the redshirt freshman.
Bolden sat last year after transferring from George Washington. Now he’s in line for big point guard minutes.
“I want him to be more aggressive and play faster than he wants to play,” Martin said of the junior. “So he’s trying to manage that dynamic.”
Henry is a grad transfer forward from Tennessee Tech who is still adjusting to a switch in systems.
“He’s going to be fine,” Martin said. “He’s kind of struggling with that a little bit right now. But (Henry’s) got pride. When dealing with people, I like dealing with people who have pride. They usually get better.”
South Carolina’s first regular season game is Nov. 6 against North Alabama. While that’ll officially close USC’s preseason, the improvement theme is expected to carry on.
“This is probably one of the most competitive teams I’ve ever played on,” Minaya said. “It’s competitive in a good way. We’re all trying to make each other better.”
Who: Columbia International at South Carolina
What: Men’s basketball exhibition game
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Colonial Life Arena