COLUMBIA -- With the revelation Friday that Murphy Holloway will attempt to return to Mississippi before playing a single second at South Carolina, Gamecocks basketball coach Darrin Horn has no problem admitting this has been the most trying week of his career.
Holloway's departure is compounded with the transfers of Ramon Galloway and Stephen Spinella and point guard Bruce Ellington's decision to split time between basketball and football.
Add to that the fact that Horn and the Gamecocks are coming off a 14-16 season, the second straight season without a postseason, and Horn felt the need to address where things stand, even compared to a week or two ago.
"I think the message is that we're going to continue to build,' Horn said. 'We're going to continue to grow
the program. Is it a setback? Yeah, it's a setback. You have to acknowledge that.
"To us, it's no different of a setback than if you had a major injury, whatever it might be. It's something we have to deal with and build on the good things we have going on."
Fans' patience was already running short, but the events of this week have caused many to wonder if there's something internally awry with Horn's program.
Horn said, as of Friday morning, he still had USC athletic director Eric Hyman's backing.
"There's going to have to be the kind of progress he wants," Horn said. "As of today, he's been supportive."
Horn continues to stress patience, as he did before this week's turmoil.
"I totally understand that," Horn said of fans' reactions. "On our side, we look at it a little bit differently. It's part of the process. It's part of building a program, like we've said from day one. It's things you have to go through. It's getting a core unit together, which we still like."
Asked later who would be counted upon as scorers for next season's team, considering USC was ranked 206th in the country in offense in 2010-11, Horn offered sophomore Brian Richardson (5.9 ppg in 30 games) and signee Damien Leonard.
Ellington, the Moncks Corner product, led USC in scoring last season, with 12.8 points a game. As of now, he would join the team in December.
But Horn conceded he likely wouldn't immediately step in as the team's starting point guard.
"I think that would be really tough to do," Horn said. "That's one of the things that I talked to Bruce about."
Horn said he also has to prepare himself for the possibility that Ellington might opt to play only football.
"I think we have to be honest and say we don't know the answer to that," he said. "I know that today he says he wants to play both and is excited about it."
Horn acted as if Galloway's decision to transfer was something that came as no surprise. He met last week with the sophomore from Philadelphia and indicated that he would have a diminished role in the offense with Leonard coming in.
Galloway averaged 10.7 points a game in 24.5 minutes a game, despite starting just four games. Horn expressed some frustration late in this year regarding Galloway's progress.
"It wasn't really a great fit," Horn said. "Does it seem to fans, because he scored a lot and played a lot, that it's out of nowhere? Yeah, maybe. I understand that. I do. But as a coaching staff, and for him and what he wants to do, it really wasn't."
And then there's Holloway, whose shoulders Horn seemed to be putting much of next season's success. He said Holloway, who averaged 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds as a sophomore at Ole Miss, would have been a "focal point" in the fall.
Horn said it was the "biggest ton of bricks I've had dropped on me" when Holloway informed him Wednesday of his decision. Horn made it sound unlikely that Holloway would be able to get back into Ole Miss, because of the NCAA's transfer policy.
"There's some things that just have to be met for that waiver to be cleared," Horn said. "It doesn't look like any of those are going to be met on the front end of this. Murphy's taking a risk of not playing again on the Division I level. He feels strongly about trying to go back."
Despite the fact Mississippi would not release him to any other SEC schools, Holloway transferred to South Carolina, anyway, paying his own way for a year while he sat out. The Irmo native came home, in part, to care for his infant child.
Horn said it's another personal matter that's carrying him back to Oxford, Miss.
With the departures, and Ellington's pending switch to a football scholarship, the Gamecocks have nine players on scholarship. Horn said he will find a point guard in the coming months, as insurance for Ellington, and the program will sign another player if he helps the team.
Regardless of all that's swirling, Horn said the Gamecocks must find a way to improve.
"We've got to get better," he said. "No question. No question."
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