One season ago, head coach Frank Martin led South Carolina to a 25-9 record and a stretch of success unfamiliar to the school. Not much was expected out of an untested SC team, but Martin found key contributions from several unlikely sources.
When it comes to the 2016-17 edition of the Gamecocks’ hoops squad, Martin is projecting a transformed atmosphere and a winner’s mentality. In turn, the slimmed down SC head coach is looking to catapult from last year’s NIT performance into a NCAA tournament berth this season.
“When you have older guys on your team, you feel bad for your seniors,” Martin said Tuesday on SEC Now.
“They set a school record for wins and you finish 3rd in your league and you cant get into the NCAA tournament, but once you’re removed from the pains, and the pain exists because you put in the work to go from the worst team in the league to one of the better teams in the league, then you start getting proud — proud of the work you put in, proud of who you are, proud of what you accomplished.”
Sophomore point guard P.J. Dozier is one returning starter that should be quite proud of his accomplishments a year ago, registering 6.7 points, 3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1 steal per game. Beyond the stat line, though, Dozier served as a steady ball-handler and proved capable of understanding and running the Gamecocks’ offense, even during conference play.
“Everybody wants to always look at stats and this and that,” Martin said. “He started at point guard at the third best team in our conference. He couldn’t have been very bad because if your point guard isn’t very good, your team isn’t going to be very good.”
Dozier showed plenty of signs that he’d develop into more than a “good” point guard, and Martin says he is now at a place where he has taken an even firmer grasp of the South Carolina offense. Compound that situation with the fact that Martin has learned how to coach the sophomore guard better, and the Gamecocks should see an improvement at the point this year.
Expect the backcourt to be a strength of the South Carolina squad this season. Senior guards Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice both drew praise from Martin during his media day conversation.
“Those guys are rocks, man,” Martin said. “Those guys are unbelievable. Sindarius, I’ve said this many times, he signed up as a kid that had options to go to big time schools in basketball. He signed up to help us build our program. Dwayne did too, and those guys have never flinched, and they’ve helped PJ. I’m extremely excited they’re on my team.”
Martin is also excited about 6-foot-9, 223-pound forward Chris Silva, and for good reason, given the sophomore’s 5.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in only 13.3 minutes of playing time per game. Expect this clip to rise in the coming year given Silva’s preseason production.
“I’ll say this: In our practices, he’s offensive rebounding better than anyone I’ve ever had,” Martin said. “And this is practice now, and he’s had some dunks that I’ve never coached anyone make in practice. And I’ve been fortunate, I’ve been around some good ones over my career.”
After outperforming expectations a season ago, Martin is encouraged that his team can make a run at the NCAA tourney. With the help of Dozier, Thornwell, Notice and Silva, a March Madness run is not out of the question for the Gamecocks.