South Carolina freshman Maik Kotsar has not seen his family for 10 months. But fortunately for him, they'll receive the opportunity to watch Kotsar play on the biggest stage in college basketball this weekend.
Kotsar said after the Elite Eight game against Florida that some members of his family are expected to be in Phoenix for the Final Four beginning on Saturday.
Quite a time to see your son or brother or cousin play college basketball for the first time.
"It's incredible," Kotsar said. "To play on such a big stage with my family watching, it's just a special feeling."
Kotsar stepped up big-time as the Gamecocks won the East Regional in New York City to punch a ticket to the Final Four. His defense against Baylor's Johnathan Motley in the Sweet 16 was pivotal, and then the freshman turned around and came out aggressive on offense in the Elite Eight win over Florida.
Kotsar demanded the ball early against the Gators and finished with 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
The Estonia native began the year as a starter, but right around the middle of the season he hit a wall, and head coach Frank Martin took him out of the starting lineup for a few games. That's proved to be beneficial for the big, 6-foot-10 post player.
"Toward the end of the year, he kind of started playing a little bit better," Martin said of Kotsar. "When I took him out of the lineup those two games, I think he relaxed. The pressure of, 'I've got to perform,' that's not easy. He's been progressively playing better every game."
Back in Estonia, the Gamecocks playing in New York was the must-watch event because of Kotsar. The games were broadcasted throughout the country, and Kotsar has been overwhelmed with support from his family and friends.
It's been just as crazy back here in Columbia after the team returned from New York City.
"It's tough to get from point A to point B," Kotsar said. "There's a lot of fans asking for pictures and autographs. But at the same time, it's really nice to have attention and know there are fans rooting for us."
There have been some pressure-packed games for the Gamecocks throughout the NCAA Tournament, but even that won't hold a candle to what the team will experience in Phoenix at the Final Four. With all of the extra attention, it could be easy to become distracted. However, Kotsar believes his team will be able to handle it.
"I think every member of our team is mature enough to get through it, listen to the coach and play accordingly," Kotsar said.
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**