COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Frank Martin is excited to watch his Gamecocks try to build on their surprise run to the Final Four, even without many of the headliners who led them to the national semifinals.
Three of the starters from last year’s team — leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell, top defender Duane Notice and lanky playmaker P.J. Dozier — are gone. Thornwell and Notice were seniors while Dozier, a sophomore, opted to go pro.
“Last year’s success creates an unwritten, positive peer pressure within our locker room,” Martin said Thursday. “And the ones who were in it last year and the ones who are in it this year, they kind of have that unwritten responsibility on each other.
“That’s the great thing about winning,” Martin said.
South Carolina won a school record 26 games last season, gaining its first NCAA Tournament bid in 13 years. The Gamecocks then went on a wild ride through the brackets , defeating No. 2 seed Duke , No. 3 seed Baylor and No. 4 seed Florida to reach the Final Four.
The run ended in a 77-73 loss to national runner up Gonzaga. Martin got a new contract later that month and began planning on how to take the Gamecocks even further next time.
Martin acknowledged he probably could’ve left South Carolina for another job last spring after the success, but chose to stay in part because he believes the Gamecocks can keep winning at a high level.
South Carolina opened practice Monday.
It will take time for Martin and his staff to shape a backcourt severely hit by last year’s departures and the dismissal of freshman point guard Rakym Felder, who was suspended after his second assault arrest in less than a year this past summer.
That leaves sophomore Hassani Gravett as the most experienced guard on the roster. Martin said Gravett’s in a much better place as a player than a season ago when he averaged 16.6 minutes and 3.2 points a game off the bench.
“Outside of that, everyone else is new, right?” Martin joked.
South Carolina will add Delaware transfer Kory Holden, freshman David Beatty and graduate transfers Frank Booker of Florida Atlantic and Wesley Myers of Maine to its backcourt.
Holden spent last season on the sidelines because of NCAA transfer rules. Martin said the junior is itching to make his mark after watching the Final Four run from the bench.
Booker and Myers were brought in for their experience.
Booker started his career at Oklahoma where he averaged 5.1 points a game in two seasons and helped the Sooners reach the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16 in 2015.
Myers spent two seasons at Niagara before transferring to Maine where last season he averaged 16.7 points and 4.5 rebounds.
What Martin has liked about the fresh faces is how well they retain teaching by the staff. If Martin corrects technique on one drill, they don’t repeat the error the next time.
“That’s huge,” Martin said. “In a game situation in a timeout, you tell them we’re going to run this to the right. When kids can’t embrace that, it’s hard to make in-game adjustments.”
The Gamecocks’ strength early figures to be down low where last year’s starters in 6-foot-9 forward Chris Silva and 6-10 Maik Kotsar return.
Both have added strength and polish to their game, Martin said.
Martin is confident everyone on the roster will build on last year’s run
“The guys have been great,” Martin continued. “Unbelievable spirit. There’s an enthusiasm on our team right now. Last year’s team has a lot to do with that. But it’s fun, fun group of guys.”
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