COLUMBIA — It was strange to be wrapping a season without a final result, and disappointing that he couldn’t do it with his team around him one last time.
But the world is a strange time right now due to the coronavirus outbreak, and it affected Frank Martin’s South Carolina basketball team like it has everyone else. The Gamecocks were in Nashville two weeks ago awaiting their late-night tipoff against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament.
By the next morning, they were back in Columbia, told their season was over and to get home as quickly as possible, if possible.
“We’re all dealing with an unknown,” Martin said Monday. “In this difficult time, we have no idea what’s in front of us. All we got is hope and faith, and we have to maintain those two things.”
The regular offseason of college basketball moves on and Martin is managing it from his house. His family, including his son Brandon Martin, a rising junior at USC Upstate and forward on the basketball team, is following the directives of state and local government by staying inside, perhaps venturing out occasionally for groceries or take-out meals.
The Gamecocks’ eighth-year coach spoke about the preparation for his ninth year. His roster, as it does every year, will change.
How much is the question.
Because of the instructions to get his players back to their homes the day after returning from Nashville, he hasn’t had time to have his usual end-of-season meetings to hear any potential transfer plans, or to know the status of guard A.J. Lawson.
“We’re supposed to get in a conference call with mom, dad, him,” Martin said. “I know A.J. and the family is at peace with him being in college. It’s not like he can’t wait to get away from here.”
Lawson turned down the NBA for his sophomore season, but he didn’t have the year he wanted to have. His inconsistent performance this year wouldn’t have mattered if he could go to the NBA Combine or participate in private workouts with NBA teams, but if those interviews and workouts never happen, it’s difficult to see Lawson being drafted without anything other than his game film to base it on.
“What I do know is because of the environment we’re in right now, it’s made it really difficult for people like A.J.,” Martin said. “That’s something we’ll address whenever I talk to his family later this week.”
Lawson's potential return, while great for USC, would also create a problem with the rest of the roster. North Carolina transfer Seventh Woods walked on this year while he wasn’t eligible to play and the plan was for him to take Lawson’s vacated scholarship next year. The Gamecocks’ other two opened scholarships (seniors Maik Kotsar and Micaiah Henry, since the NCAA is not expected to approve another year of eligibility for basketball players) are going to freshmen Patrick Iriel and Ja’Von Benson.
The Gamecocks can’t have more than 13 players on scholarship and if Woods and Lawson are both on the team, that’s 14. Yet while Martin hasn’t had any players coming to him with plans to transfer, it’s a long offseason.
“There’s a plan in place to make sure that we’re at 13 when the school year starts next year,” he said. “It’s all part of it, in the landscape we’re living in right now.”
The Gamecocks are also interested in playing the transfer market, and have been in contact with at least three players looking for new homes — Pitt’s Trey McGowens, Virginia Tech’s Landers Nolley and Quinnipiac’s Kevin Marfo. If they land any of those or anybody else, there will be more of a roster shakeup.
The current players outside of Kotsar and rising junior Alanzo Frink have left Columbia. Kotsar, the second-team All-SEC selection from Estonia, hurt his shoulder the day before the SEC Tournament and had surgery. He received permission from the university to stay on campus and work through that, the Gamecocks’ trainer allowed to come on campus and guide him through his rehab.
Frink aggravated the same knee he hurt before the season two years ago, and needs minor “maintenance” surgery. He played through pain since December.