Michael Carrera was aware of the doubters this preseason. He heard the critics.



Nov. 9 Longwood 1 p.m.

Nov. 12 at Baylor 3 p.m.

Nov. 17 at Clemson 5 p.m.

Nov. 24 FIU 1 p.m.

Dec. 6 at Okla St. 9:30 p.m.

Dec. 17 Manhattan 7 p.m.

Dec. 19 USC Upstate 4 p.m.

Dec. 22 St. Mary’s* 11 p.m.

Dec. 28 Akron 4 p.m.

Dec. 30 Marshall 7 p.m.

Jan. 3 SC State 7 p.m.

Jan. 8 at Florida 7 p.m.

Jan. 11 LSU 1:30 p.m.

Jan. 15 at Texas A&M 8 p.m.

Jan. 18 Ole Miss 4:30 p.m.

Jan. 22 at Georgia 8 p.m.

Jan. 25 at Missouri 4 p.m.

Jan. 29 Texas A&M 7 p.m.

Feb. 1 at Ole Miss 1:30 p.m.

Feb. 5 Auburn 7 p.m.

Feb. 8 at Tennessee 3 p.m.

Feb. 12 Vanderbilt 8 p.m.

Feb. 15 Alabama 4 p.m.

Feb. 19 at Arkansas 9 p.m.

Feb. 22 Georgia 1:30 p.m.

Feb. 26 at Auburn 9 p.m.

Mar. 1 Kentucky 6 p.m.

Mar. 4 Florida 7 p.m.

Mar. 8 at Miss. St. 4 p.m.

*Game played at neutral site

South Carolina’s men’s basketball team was picked to finish 12th in the 14-team SEC. It’s hardly an improvement from last winter — Frank Martin’s first as USC’s coach — when the program finished 12th with a 4-14 SEC record.

No Gamecocks were selected to the SEC’s preseason all-conference teams. Of course, players were shut out of the conference’s postseason awards this spring, too.

Carrera, USC’s sophomore forward, can’t escape the doubt. It surrounds the program. He said it hasn’t affected him or his teammates, and especially not his coach.

“That’s motivation for us,” Carrera said. “Everybody knows Frank, he don’t care about what people say. He just cares about the team, and I’m that kind of guy too. I just care about my team, I care about my teammates, and I care about the coaches.

“I really don’t care what people say about our team. I think we have a great team. I think we have one of the best coaches in the nation. We want to just work hard, be together as a family and just win as many games as we can win so we can make it to the NCAA Tournament. That’s our goal this year.”

To do that — make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 — USC will have to defy the odds.

When the Gamecocks open their season Saturday against Longwood at Colonial Life Arena, they will have seven freshmen on scholarship. They have five sophomores, three on scholarship. There are only two seniors — and Bruce Ellington won’t be trading in his cleats for high tops anytime soon.

Everyone will be asked to add to the team’s success in some way.

“I’ve got plans for everybody to contribute,” Martin said. “You get 13 scholarships, and our job is to find the 13 people that fit who we are, that fit who we want to be. They’re going to be good teammates, they’re going to respect the locker room, they’re going to respect the game. They’re going to respect the uniform.”

Martin will have to show patience, especially early in the season. There will be growing pains with such an inexperienced team. Martin said his youngsters “mean well,” but they still have miles to grow in terms of maturity and execution.

He knows his freshmen will have to be patient too. Guards Sindarius Thornwell and Demetrius Henry started in USC’s exhibition Sunday, an 84-72 win over Division II opponent USC Aiken. Other freshmen may be heavy contributors this season, but Martin said some will have to wait their turn behind the Gamecocks’ returning veterans — however few there may be.

Perhaps the greatest challenge will be melding USC’s newcomers with those returning players.

“I told the guys, ‘You know, when you go somewhere, there’s an older guy ahead of you, you go home and complain that I don’t play you. Now you’re in a place where there’s jobs wide open, and you go home and complain because the responsibility of accepting that job is kind of hard, and you don’t want to handle it,’” Martin said. “So that’s the problem with immaturity, and we’re trying to deal with that right now, but they mean well. I think we’ll be OK.”