Summer is season of preparation for Martin, Gamecocks

dcloninger@thestate.comJune 2, 2014 

The only bad part was it took this long to get here.

Ever since the season concluded, yes, with a loss, but with two SEC tournament wins before it and four wins in the last six games, Frank Martin and his troops have been eager to get back on the court. Nobody was overjoyed with South Carolina’s 20-loss season, but considering how the Gamecocks had been improving until they lost both of their top two point guards, they hated to see the season end.

USC was playing its best ball of the year at the end of the year, the goal for any coach and any program. Nobody wanted to see it end. Martin walked out of the Georgia Dome locker room sad because the season was over, happy because of the way his team never quit, and already pumped for the next season.

The next season is still a few months away, but Martin and his team can begin working now. All but one member of his 2014-15 squad is in Columbia, ready to begin summer classes and summer conditioning work.

“For me to continue to learn from them,” Martin said in early May, stressing his goals for the summer. “What the season taught them, since most of them were in it for the first time. It’s our non-stop relationship-building with every player on our team. That’s where it starts.”

All players but newest signee James Thompson are on campus and ready to participate (Thompson is set to report for Summer II in July). Thompson’s mates in the recruiting class – Marcus Stroman, TeMarcus Blanton and Shamiek Sheppard – have gotten oriented to Columbia, USC and the schedule of a basketball player and are ready to start working. The returnees are all back to work out, lift, condition and receive individual instruction.

The NCAA passed a rule last year saying that coaches could work with their players in the summer, although for limited time. Still, the two hours each player can receive per week is much better than the zero hours of previous legislation, when players were expected to work out but had no formal coaching during it – it was mostly just pickup games.

Now coaches can start installing their systems, especially for the freshmen who may be learning something completely different from what they learned in high school. They can start building the on-court chemistry that comes in so vital during a team’s last 15 games. All of the returnees were as ready as Martin to pull the jersey back on and keep playing after a fun few days in Atlanta.

“The foot is feeling great,” senior point guard Ty Johnson said. “Get back to my speed, my explosiveness, just getting the feel of being back on the court. I’m looking for a big season out of myself and trying to lead this team back to where we need to be.”

The Gamecocks’ two Lithuanians, juniors Mindaugas Kacinas and Laimonas Chatkevicius, missed time last summer due to playing for their country in international ball, but each are back this year for a full session. Each improved very much during the season last year and should increase that this year while being around for the entire summer.

“Not being around all spring and summer, not being with Scott (Greenawalt) in the weight room, not being with nutrition, and then missing the individual instruction, I think that impacted Laimonas more than Mindaugas,” Martin said. “I think Mindaugas was better prepared to go from Day 1 this year. I think both those guys being here will be a great advantage for them.”

The players will be able to work out with coaches, lift weights, train, get back to eating correctly and play pickup with each other. Former player Carey Rich’s S.C. Pro-Am will begin in July this year and all of the players will have the option to participate in that, giving them more chances to compete against other college players before the games start counting.

The plan is to have a veteran team before the first game rolls around. Martin and his team are off to a great start.

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