COLUMBIA — He hasn’t depended on them, per se. The stats reveal that a big man has led South Carolina in scoring in just two of Frank Martin’s seven seasons as basketball coach.
But his bigs have always been a substantial part of how he wants to play, as he knows that the game is won at the rim.
“We have a basis of how we’re going to play, who we are. We’re not changing from that,” Martin said. “But we have to constantly move things around to take advantage of the talents of each team. Next year’s team is going to be possibly the most unique team I’ve had here.”
The Gamecocks are guard-heavy next season, both in amount of players and expected production. A.J. Lawson, Justin Minaya, Jair Bolden, Jermaine Couisnard, T.J. Moss and Trae Hannibal should handle the bulk of the scoring game in and game out.
Power forward Maik Kotsar will still be there. As will Keyshawn Bryant, a high-flying specimen that can play low but is more useful on the perimeter. Grad transfer Micaiah Henry and sophomore Alanzo Frink join freshmen Wildens Leveque and Jalyn McCreary on the blocks.
They’ll play and Martin is hopeful they will all play well. It will look different from Martin’s usual teams, but he’s not unfamiliar with the concept.
“You saw snippets of it the year we went to the Final Four, any time I played Sindarius (Thornwell) at the four (power forward spot),” Martin said. The Gamecocks, with Thornwell low, would play Rakym Felder at point guard, Duane Notice at shooting guard, P.J. Dozier at small forward and Chris Silva at center.
“All four of those guys played point for us at one time during their careers,” Martin said of Felder, Thornwell, Notice and Dozier. “It’s just little things like that I get excited about because it gives us the ability to continue to expand and grow the basis of how we play.”
With Silva in the middle, USC could always play inside-out, with Silva as the first option to score and if he was swallowed by defense, he could pass the ball to the perimeter for a guard’s open shot.
When Michael Carrera was around, the Gamecocks could never draw it up, but they knew a Carrera rebound and putback was going to be a vital part of every game.
This year? Unknown. Kotsar has been solid in the past, but the last half of last season he seemed lost in an offensive black hole. Henry, Leveque and McCreary are newcomers to USC, and while Bryant is a dunk waiting to happen, he’s not a classic back-to-the-basket big guy.
Martin sees some of Thornwell’s versatility in Bryant. There are many moves he can make.
“You look at Auburn, they used to play Malik Dunbar at the four. If I played someone like that at the four, then I’m not going to play them like I would play Chris at the four when he used to play with Sedee Keita or someone like that at the five, or Maik Kotsar at the four, Chris at the five,” Martin said. “It changes offensively. Defensively is where, if you’re playing a team that plays big, you have to make sure that individual is strong enough and aggressive enough to defend a big.”
The Gamecocks are trading standard post moves for more ball-handling skills in the paint. That should result in a quicker offense, one that can make the extra pass to keep the defense off-balance.
And with the guards they have, that should also result in more open looks from the perimeter, and more lanes to penetrate while slashing to the rim. If they’re not the first option offensively, the bigs can always try to be the second by tipping in a missed shot at the rim.