After going 6-15 in a 2020-21 season that saw many struggles, the South Carolina men’s basketball team sought to rebuild its roster using the transfer portal.
It is no secret that last season was a rough one for head coach Frank Martin. He felt that last season the team got away from his system, causing him to lose enthusiasm as the season progressed.
“My first press conference ever I spoke about that my team was always going to play as hard as anybody and be unbelievably connected in how we play,” Martin said in a preseason press conference. “My team last year didn’t play very hard and we were very disconnected and it was all on me."
In the offseason, the team completely revamped its roster, returning only seven players from last year’s squad. The Gamecocks brought in six transfer players to replace the seven it had enter the portal.
Among these additions is graduate student guard James Reese and senior guard Erik Stevenson. These two players have led the way for the Gamecocks this season and brought the enthusiasm back into the gym, Martin said.
“The biggest thing — these guys, they've rejuvenated me after a year that was very difficult for me, and they've rejuvenated me with their enthusiasm. I’ve always got enthusiasm, but having these guys just as enthusiastic as me has got me excited for what’s in front of us,” Martin said.
Their effort in practice rubs off on their teammates and creates a productive and energetic practice environment, Martin said.
“They’ve got Jermaine [Couisnard] defending at a high rate," Martin said after the team’s win over Wofford. "Jermaine is playing with confidence right now and those two guys have something to do with it.”
Stevenson comes from Washington but started his career at Wichita State. He said his decision to transfer to South Carolina had everything to do with wanting to play for Martin.
“It was all Frank, Frank Martin honestly, the way he talked to me through the process,” Stevenson said. “He promised me one thing, that every day he was going to coach and that he’ll make me be a better person, a better player and prepare me for the next level.”
Reese transferred to South Carolina after playing his senior season at North Texas. Reese, who is from the Columbia area, said he wanted to play near home where he is comfortable.
Reese is not the only Columbia native the team picked up from the transfer portal. Junior guard Chico Carter and senior forward Brandon Martin return to Columbia after playing high school ball at Cardinal Newman.
“This is something that USC usually doesn’t have, we never have, we got three, four Columbia kids on the team, we never had that. So, I mean, it feels good to be one of the first waves of that, and you know I take pride in that, this is my home town, so this is where I want to be at,” Reese said.
Senior forward AJ Wilson from George Mason and sophomore forward Josh Gray from LSU were also added to the team.
Despite not being together for long, the team is already meshing together well, Wilson said. Wilson also mentioned that as the season progresses, the team will continue to get closer and will start to understand each other’s play-styles and learn who is comfortable in what role.
“From the day these guys got here this summer they just been on war, ready to go, ready to play you know, you got guys coming in ready to play, and that’s listening to what you’re teaching, it’s going to be good,” senior forward Keyshawn Bryant said.
South Carolina is off to a 5-1 start this season and Martin said the team will have to continue working hard in practice in order to maintain its success.
“Main focus of the team is winning, winning the SEC outright, winning the SEC tournament, winning in the NCAA tournament,” Stevenson said.