South Carolina took the country by storm with a surprising run to the NCAA Final Four, and the past month or so has been all about celebrating the historic season.
However, as head coach Frank Martin held his end-of-the-season press conference on Tuesday, the attention started to turn toward next season, and after such a great season the expectations are bound to be through the roof.
The Gamecocks will have to replace a lot of production from the Final Four team as Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and Justin McKie all graduated and sophomore P.J. Dozier elected to enter the NBA Draft early.
Martin had known for a while that Dozier would have to make a tough decision, but advised him to wait until the time was right to make the decision. A few days later, Dozier entered the draft, but did not initially hire an agent. That changed on April 17 when Dozier hired a professional agent, ending his Gamecock career.
Martin wasn't surprised that Dozier elected to enter the draft, but had hoped he would wait longer to hire an agent. Still, the head coach was supportive all the way with his star point guard.
"I'm extremely excited for him (and) I'm excited for his family," Martin said.
With the departure of four guards, a lot of the production will fall on players like Hassani Gravett and Rakym Felder. Both were new players for the Gamecocks this past season who performed well and improved throughout the season.
Both players received extensive minutes in the NCAA Tournament, and helped South Carolina win four games in the postseason, one of which was a huge upset of Duke in the second round.
"The season was on the line, and I felt pretty comfortable with those guys against Duke," Martin said of Gravett and Felder. "I have all the confidence in the world that those guys will grow as players and when the challenges get in front of them next year, they'll be ready to go."
The Gamecocks will receive another boost in the backcourt next year with the addition of transfer Kory Holden and freshman David Beatty. A transfer from Delaware, Holden is a junior who Martin has been extremely impressed with. He texted Martin recently asking for the numbers of the four incoming freshmen so he could get a head start on relationships.
"Kory is a special young man," Martin said. "Unbelievably talented, mentally and physically. He's a lot of fun to be around. Very prideful young man. Learning what it takes to have a winning team, being in a locker room where guys really care about the whole rather than just the parts, I think (it) was really good for him."
The four aforementioned incoming freshmen will all arrive to the program at different times this summer because their high schools release at different times. However, they'll all have a chance to make an immediate impact. As the highest rated recruit of the bunch and because of the void in the backcourt, Beatty could find himself playing a lot of minutes early on.
"David brings that mentality that Sindarius has, that Rah Felder has," Martin said. "An aggressive toughness."
Someone recently came up to Martin and stated that the Gamecocks were about to go through a total rebuild. Martin laughed and quickly denied that. While South Carolina lost a lot of production from a statistics standpoint, the foundation that involves character, courage, work ethic, camaraderie, etc., has been built.
"Once you've got that in place, then it's never about rebuilding," Martin said. "You don't rebuild when you lose statistics. We're about winning. That doesn't guarantee that you win the next game, but the culture and everything that takes place in building a winner is in place in that locker room."
The newcomers and other young players on the team received an opportunity to sit back and watch Thornwell, Notice, McKie and Dozier lead the Gamecocks. With those four players gone, it's the returners time to take the things they've learned and lead in their own way.
"That's the beautiful thing of when you build," Martin said. "Those young guys in that locker room, whether it was Chris Silva or Kotsar or Hassani or Rakym, any of those guys, they sat there and watched Sindarius, Duane, Justin and P.J., how they did things in their way to help our team win."
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**