Hoops notebook: Scouting the Gamecocks, Red Storm

pobley@thestate.comNovember 29, 2012 

Laimonas Chatkevicius

Emptying the notebook just prior to tonight’s Big East/SEC Challenge game between the Gamecocks and St. John’s. …

According to head coach Frank Martin, the fact Bruce Ellington plays wide receiver – as opposed to offensive lineman or quarterback, for example – makes him even more capable of stepping off the field and onto the court.

“From a conditioning standpoint, that’s the biggest thing because (the two sports) are so different,” Martin said. “In football, you take 30 seconds off between plays, or whatever. Basketball, you just keep playing. There are no stops.

“Being a receiver, I think, helps him because those receivers are running those patterns every single play and they’ve got to sprint back to the huddle and do it again,” Martin continued. “As a receiver, I think that part of it will be easier. …”

But … “I don’t know. We’ll see,” Martin added. “We’ll figure it out. Bruce is one of those guys though (who) can run until the cows come home and I don’t think he’ll ever get tired.”

Ellington made the trip to Queens with the team, but Martin remains mum on how much, if any, playing time he will get.

Martin said Ellington has shown he has picked up a little bit of his team’s offensive and defensive philosophies.

“Watching him go through some of the stuff in practice (Tuesday), it’s obvious that it was important enough for him to have learned it, because he understood it a little bit better than some of the guys who have been out there every single day for two months,” Martin said.

Read into that what you will about Martin’s satisfaction with the rest of the team.

“He obviously cares,” Martin said. “When people care, then I’m willing to trust. And when I trust, then I can play you. So that’s kind of the way I function, just to give you an idea how my brain works sometimes.” …

CHATTING ABOUT LC: Tonight, Laimonas Chatkevicius will make his regular season debut. I unsuccessfully spent a couple minutes with him on Wednesday trying to pronounce his last name. The verdict: I think I’ll just call him “LC” from now on.

What Martin would like to call the 6-foot-11 Chatkevicius is a rebounding fiend. So far, not so good.

“He’s obviously tall,” Martin said. “So I hope that becomes productive in some way. … Our fight – I don’t want to call it a fight because it’s a one-way conversation – he needs to understand that we don’t need him chucking up 3s. We need him to grab a rebound. Maybe not every minutes, but maybe every four or five minutes, rather than one every two weeks.

“If he can do that, he’ll really, really help our team.”

With that mathematical formula in mind, keep your eye on LC’s stat line tonight and you’ll know by game’s end if Martin is happy with the team’s tallest player. …

TURN, TURN, TURN: Turnovers have been a serious problem for the Gamecocks, so much so that during his radio show on Tuesday night, Martin said he’d rather see his players throw the ball “into the seventh row” rather than make some of the turnovers they have been making.

His reasoning is simple.

“The problem I’ve got with our turnovers is that they have cost us directly between 8 and 12 points a game where we can’t defend the shots that the other team takes,” Martin said. “Because they’re breakaway layups and they’re coming directly because of our turnovers.”

The Missouri State game in Mexico on Saturday might have been the tipping point. The Gamecocks committed 20 turnovers in the first half. But after the break? Just five.

Though the Gamecocks coughed it up 21 more times in the Arkansas-Little Rock game on Sunday, USC never was in any danger.

Why? Possessions were up and the kind of turnovers the team made were of a different breed.

“Not having those silly turnovers when you dribble the ball off your shoe or just handing it to the other team,” junior point guard Eric Smith said. “Make turnovers attacking, trying to make plays.”

Martin’s offensive philosophy is to have as many offensive possessions as possible. In so doing, he is asking the Gamecocks to attack relentlessly. In so doing, turnovers are going to happen, he said.

“We’re asking guys to change how they play … offensively,” Martin said. “They’re trying to understand how we’re asking them to play. I like the game to be played fast. I like high-possession games. I don’t like low-possession games.

“To play high-possession games, you have to trust your players. That means you’ve got to trust that more than one person has the ball in their hands,” Martin continued. “There are some negatives that come with that, and that’s the learning process. Turnovers are going to be a little high, especially early in the year. …

SCOUTING ST. JOHN’S: In the Red Storm, the Gamecocks will receive their staunchest test to date. Martin called tonight’s meeting the kind of game you want to expose your team to prior to a grueling conference season.

“Their skill level is real good,” Martin said. Their guards are real good. They’re young, so they make some mistakes, but they can really, really score. Defensively, they’ve had their moments where they’ve been lights-out.”

Martin said forward Chris Obekpa, a 6-9 freshman, plays defense with a style reminiscent of Alonzo Mourning.

“He chases balls to block shots,” Martin said. “I’m not saying he’s Alonzo Mourning, but when you watched Alonzo play, anyone who shot the ball eight feet and in, he was coming to get it. This kid does that. Anyone shoots the ball eight feet and in, he’s chasing that ball.” …

QUICKLY: St. John’s boasts a member of the preseason All-Names squad – God’sgift Achiuwa. Alas, you won’t see him tonight. According to the St. John’s game notes, God’sgift is “a cerebral big man in consideration for a redshirt season. … Carnesecca Arena is an intimate venue with just 5,602 seats. … Former Purdue coach Gene Keady is a special assistant to Red Storm coach Steve Lavin. In a six degrees of Frank Martin, Keady is a graduate of Kansas State, Martin’s previous employer.

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