Eight Gamecocks enter second year with program
This time last year, the story of the South Carolina basketball program focused exclusively on the future.
And Monday, when the Gamecocks held their first practice of the 2014-15 season, the tone around the team signified that the future may be now.
"It's fun to go into your first day and have a feel for what your guys do well and what they don't do well," head coach Frank Martin said. "You can try to put them in the right places from day one so you can have ideas on how your team is going to play the first time you take the court."
When South Carolina opened practice last year, there were eight newcomers to the team. Now those players that were just getting their feet wet in SEC basketball have a year of experience and a new set of expectations.
The Gamecocks return four of their top-five point getters from a year ago, with leading scorer Brenton Williams graduating out of the program.
Sophomore Sindarius Thornwell averaged the second-most points on the team with 13.4 a season ago and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team.
But the guard, who was the only freshman to average double-digit points last year, said it will be a complete team effort this time around.
"I had a good season last year, but it's a new season and anybody's capable of scoring," Thornwell said. "Everybody came back working on their game and it's not just me."
Thornwell and senior guard Tyrone Johnson joined their head coach in Estonia this August, participating in the 2014 Four Nations Cup.
Martin brought along his dynamic backcourt duo as members of the USA East Coast Basketball Team that finished second in the competition.
Johnson is preparing for his first full campaign with South Carolina after transferring from Villanova before the start of last year and suffering a broken ankle in January that cut his season short.
Before his injury, Johnson averaged 11.2 points per game, good for third on the team last year.
South Carolina's returners are joined by just three freshmen this year, TeMarcus Blanton, Marcus Stroman and Shamiek Sheppard.
With the fall slate of practices underway, the Gamecocks will have just under three weeks to prepare for their first and only exhibition contest of the preseason against Benedict.
And according to Martin, he likes what he's seen so far.
"The improvements, the commitments, there's no shortcuts there in anything we've done," he said. "I understand our players. I think they understand us better, and we're excited."