The South Carolina men’s basketball team has had a historic start to the season with a 17-3 record — the team's best start since the 2015-2016 season that resulted in the Gamecocks making it to the Final Four in March Madness for the first time.
The team has come a long way since last season when it only won 11 games, four being in conference play. The Gamecocks have already surpassed both of these totals this season.
Freshman forward Collin Murray-Boyles, a new addition to the team this season, has been instrumental in the team’s success thus far.
“(Murray-Boyles) is an explosive athlete. He’s about as SEC of an athlete as there possibly could be in my estimation,” head coach Lamont Paris said. “He’s a tremendously functional athlete that also knows how to play, that also has good touch and good feel for the game, and he's a great team guy too.”
Murray-Boyles, standing at 6 feet and 7 inches, is from Columbia, SC. He played his first three years at A.C. Flora High School, about four miles from the university. He played his senior season in Utah at Wasatch Academy in a league called the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference, which has some of the top high school basketball programs in the nation.
Despite making the change and finishing his high school career in Utah, Murray-Boyles wasn’t highly sought-after nationally coming out of high school. The biggest schools that made him offers were Wofford, Appalachian State, SMU, Coastal Carolina and of course South Carolina.
The hometown kid decided to come back home and make his return to Columbia, enrolling at the University of South Carolina.
Murray-Boyles began making an impact when the Gamecocks traveled to the Bahamas during the preseason to play two exhibition games against teams from Lithuania and Argentina.
The freshman had already found a starting spot on the team when he got sick with infectious mononucleosis (commonly known as "mono") right before the start of the season. This setback caused him to miss the first six games.
“When we went to the Bahamas in the summer, he was a part of the starting group. He had earned that spot," Paris said.
Murray-Boyles' sickness caused him to lose weight, and he was not able to practice before the season's start. Since then, he has been regaining his strength, putting on roughly 10 pounds since being sick. He had to ramp up conditioning and getting used to being back on the court as the team was already playing games.
That is no simple task for anyone, but 20 games into the season and 14 since his return, he has made his freshman year look easy.
Murray-Boyles made his season debut against George Washington University but only played in the final four minutes of the game. But in that time, he was able to get his first 2 points at the college level.
The forward played a maximum of 18 minutes in the first seven games he appeared in as he continued getting back to his preseason form. But he only needed 15 minutes to put up his season-high of 17 points, shooting five for six from the field against Florida A&M on Dec. 30.
“I've gained that aggression back a little bit from when I was out,” Murray-Boyles said. “(I've been) working on my touch around the rim, just getting all those good skills that I used to have back.”
Murray-Boyles’ next big game came against Georgia Jan. 16. He score eight points, and led the team with six rebounds. He also accomplished an impressive four blocks in 22 minutes in the first home start of his young career.
"I think we’re a little more explosive at the start of the game with him in there as a more explosive athlete and stronger guy," Paris said. "So, I thought it was good timing."
The Columbia native logged 29 minutes against No. 6 Kentucky on Jan. 23, the most minutes he's played in the season. Murray-Boyles recorded three blocks and two steals on the defensive end. Offensively, he contributed five assists and a team-high nine rebounds as Carolina cruised to a win against the top-ten team.
Paris commended the athlete's sense of anticipation, knack for getting a hand on the ball, and willingness to be physical on the court.
“He’s got some special gifts, Collin does," Paris said. "His potential is limitless. He’s nowhere close to what he should be able to get to as a player. He is special. His ceiling is so high,” Paris said.
Murray-Boyles gives the starting group a huge boost offensively, averaging 7.6 points since being in the starting lineup. He brings a great addition on the defensive side of the ball as well, bringing ten blocks in the past four games. The freshman has also averaged 6.6 rebounds in his five games.
His veteran teammate, graduate student forward B.J. Mack, praised Murray-Boyles' and sophomore guard Zachary Davis' readiness.
“We’ve seen that the moment their name is called that they’re ready to step up,” Mack said. “We have a lot of depth on this team, so it just shows the work that they put in to be able to be ready."
Murray-Boyles and the Gamecocks will travel to Tennessee to take on the Volunteers on Tuesday, Jan. 30. The game will air on SEC Network and tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m.