COLUMBIA -- Murphy Holloway wasn't a member of South Carolina's basketball team for very long, and never actually played a game for the Gamecocks. But he developed close relationships with USC's players during the 2010-11 season, which he sat out because of NCAA rules after transferring from Mississippi.
"We became best friends," said USC sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington.
Ellington will see his pal again tonight, when USC plays at Ole Miss. That's because Holloway transferred back there after last season. The NCAA granted him a waiver to play this season at Mississippi, where he spent his first two seasons.
Holloway, a 6-7, 240-pound junior, is starting again for the Rebels, as he did during his sophomore year. He ranks third on the team at 10.2 points per game and first with 9.3 rebounds per game.
Holloway's strange saga began when he transferred to USC -- just down the road from his hometown of Irmo -- to become the primary caregiver for his infant daughter, according to multiple media reports about his situation.
Ole Miss refused to release him from his scholarship, in keeping with its unofficial policy of not releasing athletes to transfer within the Southeastern Conference, a practice that is not uncommon in college sports. So Holloway wasn't on scholarship last season at USC.
By the time the season was over, Holloway's family situation no longer required him to be his daughter's primary caregiver, according to reports. Holloway wanted to return to Mississippi, and USC coach Darrin Horn granted him a release from his scholarship. The NCAA and SEC cleared Holloway to play before the season.
"I still text him every now and then, telling him good luck for his games, and he tells me the same thing," said Ellington, who plans to say hello to Holloway before tonight's game.
Holloway wasn't available for comment Friday, according to Ole Miss. But he made it clear on his Twitter account that he hasn't forgotten about his friends from Columbia.
"Ready to see and hoop with my boys from USC," he wrote Friday. "Had a great time with them last year."
After USC's loss at Elon in the season's second game, Holloway tweeted, "Looks like SC could of used me tonight."
Said Ellington: "He probably would have been a great asset to our team. But we've got to do what we've got to do, to continue with what we've got right now."
USC's players know Holloway's game well, because they practiced against him last year, but Horn dismissed that as a potential advantage.
"With the way that we scout now at this level, with all the tools that we have, you pretty much know everything about a player and a team in terms of tendencies," Horn said. "The bottom line is, you still have to go out and do it. I personally don't think that's something that comes into play."
Horn said he has "nothing but good things to say about Murphy Holloway," and said he won't tell his players how to interact with Holloway before the game.
"What, are we in kindergarten?" Horn joked. "I've got to set guidelines? Those guys have relationships with him and friendships with him. I'm actually looking forward to personally seeing the kid. He's a good kid, and I really enjoyed coaching him when he was in our program. We're not going to set any guidelines about how we talk to an opposing player."