New South Carolina men's basketball head coach Lamont Paris begins his tenure in Columbia with five new transfer athletes from a variety of programs.
Paris made his name at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga by taking advantage of the transfer portal. He now looks to replicate that success with the Gamecocks.
"I hope to put a product out there that people are scratching their heads and saying 'How in the world did that work? I see who they have playing and this guy didn't really play much at this school and this guy's never played at this level and that guy's never played that role at all,'" Paris said at SEC Media Day.
The newcomers include graduate forward Hayden Brown, who previously played at The Citadel, junior guard Meechie Johnson, who transferred from Ohio State, and redshirt junior forward Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, who transferred from Illinois.
Brown was the first player from the portal to commit to the Gamecocks in April. He has a pre-existing relationship with Paris, as the two competed against each other in the Southern Conference at their previous schools.
“It’s a really special relationship that we’ve had because it’s been unique right, like, I’ve played against him for five years, so I’ve had somewhat of a feel for who he is as a person, who he is as a coach,” Brown said. "So, I’ve been very comfortable with him."
Brown started all 30 games he appeared in for the Citadel last season, averaging 18.8 points and 9.5 rebounds. He played a total of 111 career games for the Bulldogs from 2017 to 2022. Now, the 24-year-old looks to share his experience as the oldest player on the roster with his new teammates.
“I don’t take a role like that lightly, and I enjoy being somebody that the guys can look to and be like, 'Okay he’s been there, he's done that,'” Brown said.
Johnson is another incoming transfer who brings much-needed NCAA Tournament experience. He came off the bench for the Buckeyes in the tournament this past season and played 43 games for the team over two seasons. Johnson said he intends to lead by example to establish a winning mentality in Columbia.
“When you see a teammate or somebody who’s all about winning all the time, it’s a domino effect,” Johnson said. “It shows the other players, other players start to do it, other players start to buy in. I feel like that’s the biggest thing I’m trying to show these guys.”
Johnson's minutes per game tripled from his first to second season at Ohio State and he looks to take another step with his on-court production this year. He said Paris' game plan and approach with his team will assist him in meeting those goals.
“Offensively, just the freedom to be able to be you, to play your game. (Paris) has instilled confidence I feel like in every single player, in every guy out there, and I feel like that’s big,” Johnson said.
Each transfer brings with them perspective from their previous programs and unique skills but the team will have to develop chemistry to compete in the SEC. Bosmans-Verdonk stressed the importance of connectivity amongst a newly assembled roster.
“With the coaching change and so many different players coming in, I think there’s something to be said about not really having had the opportunity to play with each other for a long time. I think that defensively, especially, it’s like a machine, and you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” Bosmans-Verdonk said.
Bosmans-Verdonk chose to come to Columbia after graduating from Illinois in three years to enroll in the South Carolina law school. He experienced injury trouble with the Illini and that, alongside the extra year of eligibility from COVID-19, will allow him to play for the Gamecocks for multiple seasons.
Another transfer, senior guard Ebrima Dibba, will be out for the season due to an Achilles injury. Dibba came to Columbia from Coastal Carolina where he played 90 career games for the Chanticleers.
Senior guard Chico Carter Jr. is familiar with the transfer portal after playing last season with the Gamecocks following a transition from Murray State the previous offseason. He has first-hand experience with the challenge of adapting to a new program but said the team is already bonding well.
“Our chemistry has been great for a lot of new faces, a lot of transfers, incoming freshman," Carter Jr. said. "I feel like we’ve been jelling off the court, even if it’s like playing a game in the house or listening to music, watching film, just being around each other."