Five questions facing USC men’s basketball

dcloninger@thestate.comSeptember 28, 2013 

Newcomers will be counted on from the start

Five questions as the South Carolina men’s basketball team holds its first official practices this week:

1. IS CARRERA HEALTHY?

USC is better with the energetic, scrappy Michael Carrera on the floor. The problem is, he sometimes plays with so much intensity that he knocks himself out diving on the floor. Carrera couldn’t practice for more than half of last year because of a stress fracture in his hip, but it’s 100 percent now.

2. WHO RUNS THE POINT?

Bruce Ellington and Ty Johnson are the two most experienced players, but each won’t be on the court for the opener. That will leave it up to Sindarius Thornwell or Jaylen Shaw. Once Johnson is eligible, he should be the point guard.

3. CAN WILLIAMS BE A LETHAL SCORER?

Sure, Brenton Williams can. He didn’t drop 38 on Mississippi State last year by accident. The question is, can he be a 15-to-20 point guy every night? Williams can heat up quicker than a Columbia summer, but has battled stretches of inconsistency throughout his career.

4. WILL THE TEAM BE BETTER?

Hard to say. Better in talent? It already is. Better in wins? Who knows? There are eight newcomers and all will get a chance to play. The team’s success depends on how quickly the rookies get used to the system, and to major college basketball. Carrera and Williams are two rocks to build the team around, and Thornwell will be a star by the time he finishes.

5. WILL COLUMBIA WATCH?

Martin has griped — deservedly — since he arrived about the apathy around USC basketball. And he knows that four consecutive lousy seasons will do that, while winning will reverse the course. But he’d like to see more fans get behind the team, showing up at Colonial Life Arena and being loud.

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Men’s hoops at a glance

What’s happened with coach Frank Martin’s program since it ended the 2012-13 season:

DEPARTURES

Jr. G Brian Richardson (7.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg, transferred to High Point); Sr. F Lakeem Jackson (7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg); Jr. G Eric Smith (5.7 ppg, 1.8 rpg, transferred to Coastal Carolina); Jr. F R.J. Slawson (4.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, transferred to Jacksonville); So. G Damien Leonard (4.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, transferred to Furman); Sr. G Shane Phillips (0.4 ppg, 0.0 rpg); associate head coach Brad Underwood (new head coach at Stephen F. Austin)

RETURNEES

So. F Michael Carrera (9.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg); So. F Laimonas Chatkevicius (4.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg); So. G Austin Constable (0.0 ppg, 0.3 rpg); Sr. G Bruce Ellington (9.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg)*; RS Jr. Carlton Geathers (DNP)*; So. F Mindaugas Kacinas (4.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg); So. F Brian Steele (2.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg); Sr. G Brenton Williams (11.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg)

*Note: Ellington will not play until football season is over. Geathers has said he will not play this year while recovering from knee surgery, which also cost him last year

ADDITIONS

Fr. F/C Demetrius Henry (6-9); Jr. G Ty Johnson (6-3)*; Fr. G Justin McKie (6-4); Fr. G Duane Notice (6-2); Fr. F/C Desmond Ringer (6-9); Fr. G Jaylen Shaw (6-0); Fr. F Reggie Theus Jr. (6-6); Fr. G Sindarius Thornwell (6-5); assistant coach Perry Clark

*Note: Johnson is not eligible until after the first semester ends (approx. Dec. 17)

HAPPENINGS

March 13: USC falls 70-59 to Mississippi State in the first round of the SEC tournament, finishing the season at 14-18, 4-14 SEC. Frank Martin’s first season at USC is a four-game overall improvement on the 2011-12 season, and a two-game SEC improvement, but the Gamecocks don’t taste the postseason and stretch their SEC tournament losing streak to five years.

April 6: USC signs Henry, Notice and Theus Jr. to the recruiting class that began with November signees Ringer, McKie, Thornwell and Johnson. Martin also announces that Smith, Slawson, Leonard and Richardson are leaving the program.

May 3: Shaw signs with USC to complete the recruiting class.

May 28: Underwood announced as head coach at Stephen F. Austin.

June 6: Clark hired as assistant coach to fill Underwood’s vacancy.

July 1: After training in Colorado, Martin and the rest of Team USA leave for Russia and the World University Games. Martin is an assistant along with Michigan’s John Beilein to Davidson’s Bob McKillop.

Sept. 25: Matt Figger promoted from assistant coach to associate head coach, Underwood’s old position.

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