The University of South Carolina offered one thing to men’s basketball freshmen Arden Conyers and Collin Murray-Boyles that made their college decision a no-brainer — its proximity to home.
Conyers, a guard, and Murray-Boyles, a forward, are both from the Columbia area and said the opportunity to play near home held a lot of weight in their commitment.
“I just love being 20 minutes away,” Conyers said. “Being around people that support me, it's a great experience.”
Conyers played at Westwood and left his mark on the program, scoring more than 1,000 points in his career. He averaged 21.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game during his senior season and was the consensus No. 3 overall recruit in South Carolina.
Still, Conyers' transition to college ball has not been perfect, he said. The increased pace at the next level challenged the incoming freshman.
“I had to adjust to the speed of the game coming from Westwood to a Power Five school,” Conyers said. “I am adjusting. I know it's my freshman year, it's going to take a little minute to get everything down, but I'm working. That's why I work.”
Murray-Boyles began his high school career across town at A.C. Flora in Columbia.
He played three seasons as a member of the Falcons and helped lead the team to the state title game in his junior season after averaging 18.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per game.
Murray-Boyles did not stick around the Midlands, however. He transferred to Wasatch Academy in Utah for his senior season and averaged 15.0 points and 8.8 rebounds.
Now, he’s back in Columbia and ready to play in front of his family — which is full of devoted Gamecock fans.
“It really was a no-brainer,” Murray-Boyles said. “My family is a South Carolina family. My mom graduated from here. My dad is a avid USC women's basketball fan. We always go to games. So, I already knew what the crowd was like and how the environment was, so I already knew what I was getting myself into.”
The addition of Conyers and Murray-Boyles brings the total number of in-state players to five. Junior guard and Fort Mill native Jacobi Wright said repping his state gives him an added sense of pride.
“When you have your state across the front of your jersey, I feel like it means a little more to us,” Wright said. “We're playing for something. That's part of the reason we come here, so our families can come to the games, so we can represent our state. So, it's always just extra little motivation when we step on the court being from South Carolina.”
The five players from South Carolina — plus graduate-student forwards B.J. Mack and Stephen Clark from Charlotte, North Carolina — means almost half of the team is familiar with the region.
Murray-Boyles said his comfort with the area allows him to help his other teammates, which includes three international players, acclimate to the the region.
“I think that adds a lot of culture, just knowing what South Carolina is about,” Murray-Boyles said. “Just knowing how the crowd gets, just knowing how the fans like to interact with the players, I think that's really good. And we can teach some of these (international players) we got more, teach 'em how we roll down here.”
Conyers and Murray-Boyles joined the program in a better position than most players thanks to their local support system, according to head coach Lamont Paris.
“They came in here, I think, ahead of the game, not only physically, but just in terms of their knowledge of the game,” Paris said. “Really excited about them, as well as our other freshmen.”
The two had their first opportunity to put their skills on display in a live game scenario during the preseason. The Gamecocks traveled to the Bahamas for two exhibition games, beating teams from Argentina and Lithuania
Murray-Boyles put up a solid stat line in the first game, recording 4 points, two rebounds and two assists. Paris praised the freshman after the game for his explosiveness.
“Collin was really good,” Paris said after the game against Lithuania’s Žalgiris-2 on Aug. 4. “He’s active, he rebounds, he’s got a natural instinct to pursue the ball as a rebounder. He's got really good hands. That’s a hard thing to teach. And he’s turned into an explosive offensive player in the last 365 days. He’s changed his body composition, and he’s explosive, he's explosive now. And so, just really excited about what he can bring."
Both freshmen made an impact in the second game against Argentina’s Club Obras.
Conyers scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds. Murray-Boyles was the team’s third-leading scorer with 16 points on a perfect 7-7 shooting and added six rebounds.
“I love our young group,” Paris said after the Aug. 6 game. "They both still have some growing pains defensively, that’s par for the course for young guys. But man, I’m super excited about what the future looks like for both of those guys and the impact that they’ll have moving forward for this team and this program.”
Conyers' goal for the season is to get through those growing pains defensively, he said, and he has been working closely with Paris in practice to improve.
“He's been teaching me a lot of things defensively,” Conyers said. “That's where I need to improve, I feel like I need to improve. So, defensively we've been bonding, talking a lot. Just getting to know each other.”
Murray-Boyles said he wants to limit his mistakes this season, understanding they could cost him playing time.
“As a freshman, you don't got that much wiggle room,” Murray-Boyles said. “So, just being able to do the right things on the court and off the court is going to be really big this year.”
Murray-Boyles will have some catching up to do before he steps on the court for the first time this season. He did not start the season with the rest of the team after being ruled out for an indefinite time due to mononucleosis, but when he returns, he is expected to play a vital role, according to a team press release.
Regardless of how they play this season, both players' family will be close by to root them on. Murray-Boyles said he expects to see his family cheering him on from the stands often.
“100%, every single game,” Murray-Boyles said. “No matter where it's at, they're going to be there every time.”