Martin seeks winners as season opener nears

Special to The StateNovember 7, 2012 

USC head basketball coach Frank Martin shouts to players as they take on Kentucky Wesleyan in the first period of an exhibition game at the Colonial Life Arena.

C. ALUKA BERRY — caberry@thestate.com

The performance by South Carolina’s men’s basketball team during it’s 68-67 victory against Division II Kentucky Wesleyan last week did little to raise expectations for Frank Martin’s first year at the helm.

The Gamecocks were short-handed, with three expected contributors on the sideline nursing injuries, and seven scholarship players available.

The most troubling aspect for Martin was the lack of rebounding from his post players. In addition, the team never found much of an identity in its half-court offense and needed a last-second shot from Brenton Williams to pull out the win.

So there are plenty of things to work on before South Carolina tips off the season against Wisconsin-Milwaukee at the Colonial Life Arena at 3 p.m. Sunday.

“Offensively, we’ll be a work in progress for a while as we, as coaches, continue to understand them as players,” Martin said Wednesday at his weekly news conference. “I think that will take time. I think we got stagnant when those injuries hit us. But then two days ago, we were OK. (Tuesday), it’s the best we’ve been in a while so, hopefully, we can build on it.”

The good news is LaShay Page (hamstring), Damien Leonard (broken nose) and Mindaugas Kacinas (ankle sprain) are expected to be available Sunday.

But Martin needs to find a way to shore up the rebounding woes. The Gamecocks will be undersized in nearly every game, makeing it imperative for Martin to get production from R.J. Slawson and Laimonas Chatkevicius in the post.

Those two combined for one rebound in 39 minutes against Kentucky Wesleyan.

“If you were coaching the team, I think you would have been a little aggravated if you had one rebound from those two guys combined,” Martin said. “They’re learning. My job is to push them, not allow them to accept zero and one rebound as a productive thing out there. They need to go home that night and realize, ‘I didn’t do as well as I need to do. I’m capable of doing more.’ They’ve responded.”

Chatkevicius, a 6-foot-11 freshman, has had trouble rebounding during the preseason, but is making progress, Martin said.

“Laimonas has probably had his best three, four practices that he’s had since he’s been here,” Martin said of the last week of practice. “(Before that) we went through five consecutive practices and he didn’t grab a rebound. Not grabbing a rebound in a game is not something that was unexpected, but it’s something that he has to change if he wants to help us. He can do it, he just has to change.”

Slawson has played two years in the SEC and has not become the dominant player many thought he would be coming out of Fort Dorchester High in Summerville. His slender body doesn’t lend itselft to banging with the big bodies but Martin has seen enough to believe Slawson can make an impact.

He has played timid at times and that is something Martin hopes the 6-8 forward puts in his past.

“R.J. is just a little up and down,” Martin said. “R.J. has been kind of a background player around here, I guess. He was never a focal guy, never a front-line guy. Well, he’s got to embrace that responsibility right now because that’s the kind of ability that he has for our basketball team.”

Martin feels this team can win now but everyone must play to their ability on a nightly basis to be competitive. Even though USC will be undersized and limited to 10 scholarship players, Martin isn’t making excuses.

“(We’ve) got to figure out a way to play and put the guys that contribute to winning the best on the floor,” Martin said. “And if that means playing a bunch of six-foot guys, let’s go do it. You will learn this about me real quick. I ain’t worried about what I don’t got. I’m worried about what I do got and utilizing what we do got to make it work.”

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