COLUMBIA -- When they signed with South Carolina in November, Anthony Gill and Damien Leonard seemed to be important pieces in Darrin Horn's plan to continue building his program.
That has changed, and quite a bit, since expected and unexpected departures in the spring. Now Gill and Leonard are a part of a cast of players who just might have to win enough games to keep Horn in place for the future.
Naturally, there's some heat that goes along with that for everyone on the roster, and there are only 10 scholarship players, considering two-sport athlete Bruce Ellington is now on a football scholarship. But there's some pressure, in particular, for the freshmen, who are essentially required to make impacts.
"There's always pressure, on any level," said Gill, a 6-8 forward from Charlotte Christian who can play both forward positions. "It winds up being a good thing and me and Damien. We have to be ready. We're going to get thrown in there."
Gill is ranked 85th overall by ESPN.com and 13th at his position. Leonard, meanwhile, is rated 99th overall and 28th at his position, shooting guard.
Place the emphasis, too, on the word shooting, because that's what USC needs from the 6-5 J.L. Mann product. The Gamecocks shot 39.5 percent from the floor a year ago in a 14-16 season. Ellington led the team with 12.8 points a game, but he shot just 32.6 percent.
"He just shoots and keeps shooting it," Gill said of Leonard. "I like that."
Horn also made note of that sort of confidence. He said Leonard always thinks the next shot is going in.
Leonard said he took that mentality from another South Carolina guy, Dalzell's Ray Allen.
"He could miss seven in a row and shoot the eighth like he knows it's going in," Leonard said. "That's what I want to do."
Right now, Gill and Leonard are playing pickup games, trying to get acclimated to their new teammates and the college-level game before practice begins in October. In the school's weight program, Leonard has added 11 pounds in a couple of months. Gill has added 16 pounds, helping him get ready for college bruisers he'll face, such as Ohio State's Jared Sullinger.
"I'm going to need some weight to throw around in there," Gill said, laughing.
The pickup games are going on without the team's two eldest players, junior forward Lakeem Jackson and senior forward Malik Cooke. Cooke dislocated his right ankle earlier this month. He's expected back by October, but Horn said the team is surely missing his presence on the floor right now. The same goes for Jackson, who finally had surgery in June to help correct bone issues with a left foot injury that plagued him throughout last season.
It's just more adversity for Horn's team. In the spring, post Sam Muldrow graduated, guard Ramon Galloway transferred, transfer Murphy Holloway returned to Mississippi -- where he transferred from -- after sitting out last season, and Ellington opted to play two sports.
"The biggest challenge is just moving on and focusing on getting better," Horn said. "I think our guys have done a really good job of that. I have to do that. If I'm not going to, no one else is. I still think we've got a good young group and we'll continue to show progress."
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