COLUMBIA -- What do you do when you don't know something? Google it, right?

Well, that's what South Carolina's returning basketball players did to learn about their new teammates.

"We looked them up on the Internet," Gamecocks sophomore wing Lakeem Jackson said, laughing. "We were really curious who was coming. We lost a lot of players. We knew those guys were going to play. We like all the guys that came in. We can't wait to start it up."

That happens Friday against Elon. A trip to No. 2 Michigan State follows the opener.

What to expect, both in those games and the ones that follow? Who knows? Third-year coach Darrin Horn has some idea, but only some idea.

"There are some unknowns," he said, "but there's some excitement."

One thing's a definite: Horn has littered his roster with newcomers from the Lowcountry.

Bruce Ellington, in a lot of ways, might be the most important of those first-year players. The 5-9 point guard from Berkeley High School is being asked to slip into the point guard role that Devan Downey excelled in the past three seasons.

Ellington is more of a conventional point guard, looking to get his teammates involved and then look for his shot, but that doesn't at all diminish his importance. He scored a team-high 23 points in the team's exhibition win last week.

Ellington's new teammates cooed about his quickness, his staple with the Stags.

"He's always been that way," said R.J. Slawson, Ellington's cousin and another of the Lowcountry freshmen.

Slawson was the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state after his senior season, edging out Ellington. He averaged 22.7 points and 12.4 rebounds a game in his final season at Fort Dorchester High School.

Big man Carlton Geathers, from Georgetown, rounds out the Lowcountry haul. The 6-10 Geathers, with that famous family name, has been a pleasant surprise as a project player, Horn has said.

Along those lines, no one has been more of an unexpected bright spot than Wilson, N.C., native Brian Richardson.

And keep an eye this season on Nevada transfer Malik Cooke. Teammates raved about his ability a year ago, while he sat out to satisfy the NCAA rule.

Cooke is easily capable of being a double-figure scorer, Horn has said.

This year's version of Cooke is Murphy Holloway. The Irmo native transferred home from Mississippi, but he'll be required to sit a season before he's eligible.

But these Gamecocks will not be playing for 2011-12.

Senior Sam Muldrow (10.4 points a game, 6.2 rebounds a game) certainly feels that way for his last go-round. The Gamecocks need more consistency from the 6-9 Muldrow, who at times can take over a game.

Jackson and fellow sophomore, guard Ramon Galloway, will need to make jumps in their second seasons. Both players appeared to be feeling their way through their freshman seasons, with stark highs and lows. They did play well toward the end of the season, but the Gamecocks didn't, losing seven of eight to finish a 15-16 season.

Galloway's 2010 season will begin on a low after he broke his foot in an off-the-court incident. He'll be out the first month or so. In his stead, Horn said Richardson could get an extended look.

With a slew of question marks, the Gamecocks find themselves in one of the country's most difficult divisions. Horn is concerned with building a program, as he regularly reminds media types.

But he'd like to win now, too.

"I think we'll continue to be a work in progress and get better as we move forward," Horn said. "I'm very encouraged by the possibilities that I see so far."