Gamecocks start with clean slate

There is probably no one in college basketball more anxious to get the 2011-12 college basketball season started than South Carolina coach Darrin Horn. Following a promising start, the Gamecocks fell on hard times during the second half of the 2010-11 campaign.

The team posted a 14-16 record, including a disappointing 5-11 mark inside the Southeastern Conference. This got worse for Horn and staff following the season as guards Ramon Galloway and Stephen Spinella left the team, apparently because they did not project into the Gamecocks future plans.

The team received a bigger jolt a couple days later when Murphy Holloway, a highly regarded power forward from near-by Irmo who transferred to the Gamecocks from the University of Mississippi, following the 2009-10 season, opted to return to Oxford, Miss. to again play for the Rebels this year.

Add to that the loss of the Gamecocks best player, center Sam Muldrow to graduation and leading scorer Bruce Ellington for as much as half the season while he plays wide receiver for the football team and things look bleak for USC again this season.

Horn has put on a good face, however, in hopes the team will surprise in a different way this season.

"I think this is a team that's going to be fun to coach and we're having fun coaching them right now," said Horn. "Our attitude is terrific and our work ethic is really good. We're having fun watching them play and see what we can do. I feel like we've gotten better every day, which is going to be our theme to look for throughout the year. We have a lot to do and a long way to go."

Horn will be adding two top 100 rated freshmen to the roster in 6-5 swing man Damien Leonard and 6-8 forward Anthony Gill. Leonard gives Carolina a long range shooting threat it has lacked in recent seasons. Gill not only adds power inside, but can be effective on the perimeter. After finding out Ellington would be playing football, the Gamecock basketball staff hit the recruiting trail in search of a point guard. The added 5-11 Brenton Williams, a junior college transfer.

"When I say they're fun to coach," Horn said of the newcomers, "I mean all of those things. You got guys like Anthony Gill, Damien Leonard, and Brenton Williams, who are obviously new but they're all character kids. They want to play the game the right way, learn, and get better. They've been as involved as anybody in terms of playing unselfishly and learning how that is. I've been really pleased with those guys."


--The loss of Bruce Ellington, at least until early January, has forced the USC coaching staff to attempt to find different ways and different players to run the offense. The team hopes junior college transfer Brenton Williams, along with sophomore Eric Smith, will pick up most of the slack. Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn will have other tricks up his sleeve, however, when the season begins.

"We're looking at a lot of different things, whether it's (junior) Lakeem (Jackson), Eric, or Brenton and how we play," said Horn. "I don't think it's going to be a one-person position. We're going to have to put someone in there to start, of course. At the same time, it's going to be a deal where we're going to need everyone who plays that position to play some. How we utilize that -- one of the things outside of Lakeem, Brenton and Eric, Brenton can create and Eric is terrific in transition. Eric is shooting the ball well right now. They're guys who can maybe play off the ball. Maybe they're in the same time as Lakeem when he's at the point. I think that's something that will not only be an ongoing process this fall but even when we get into the season and see what happens in games."

--With the loss of All-Southeastern Conference performer Sam Muldrow to graduation, USC will depend heavily on 6-9 sophomore Damontre Harris to carry the load. He has gotten off to a slow start, however, as he has been held out of practice early due to an injured foot. While he is projected to be ready for the season, the coaching staff hopes it is something that will not linger throughout the campaign.

"We don't think it will be, but that is always a concern," said Horn. "That's why we're holding him out right now. We want to make sure he is healthy when the season begins."

--Two sophomores who suffered growing pains as freshmen should be ready to make big contributions this season. Swing man Brian Richardson entered the program with a reputation a as a strong shooter. After proving that early in the season both his body and confidence appeared to take a hit. The coaching staff believes he is ready to make a more completed contributions this year.

Slawson, the South Carolina High School Player of the Year as a senior had his moments as a freshmen, but will be counted on heavily this season to contribute on both ends of the court.

LAST YEAR: 14-16 overall, 5-11 in the Southeastern Conference

HEAD COACH: Darrin Horn, fourth year as head coach (50-42 at USC; 161-90 career) QUOTE TO NOTE: "A strength we think we could have is shooting the basketball in terms of individual shooters. So what do we do to make that a strength offensively? We're full go in terms of our preparation. With a young team, or a team we have new pieces that we have versatility, where is everyone going to play and how does that look -- I think you take more time to look and see. I know as we move forward, one of the big questions is who's starting? I think this is the kind of team that it could be a seven-starter type of team. Seven guys are capable of it and maybe all seven do. Who knows? The important thing is they're an important part of what we're doing and we are going to need everyone to be our best." -- Darrin Horn on a potential team strength.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: *PG Eric Smith, SG Lakeem Jackson, SF Damien Leonard, SF Malik Cooke, PF Damontre Harris. *Bruce Ellington should take over at PG when returning to the team following football.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Probably the strength of the South Carolina team is its flexibility. The team has great athleticism which could mean coach Darrin Horn finally has to the players needed to execute his high energy, press all over the court defense. The bad news is the squad is still short on long range shooters and doesn't have a point guard who can consistently handle pressure, at least until sophomore Bruce Ellington returns to the squad after performing with the Gamecock football team. The team also must keep its fingers crossed that sophomore Damontre Harris recovers from an injured foot as he will be looked upon to carry the load on the inside.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Swing player Damien Leonard is a highly regarded performer who was rated among the top 100 high school players in the nation. A dead-eye outside shooter, the 6-5 performer could open the season as the club's starter at swing forward. The only question mark entering school was his size (178) He has built up to a more athletic 193 pounds.

Power forward Anthony Gill, also a top 100 prospect, will be counted on to add muscle inside, but has the ability to step out and take a jump shot if needed.

Point guard Brenton Williams was a late addition to the class, signed during the summer when the Gamecock coaching staff was searching for an additional point guard after learning Bruce Ellington planned to play football. He will be counted on to add depth and potentially split time with sophomore Eric Smith until Ellington returns.


--Sophomore PF Damontre Harris had an impressive freshman season and is viewed as the Gamecocks top inside threat. He is missing the beginning of practice with an injured foot, however. The coaching staff is taking a cautious approach as they want him to be completely healthy so the injury won't linger throughout the campaign.

--Sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington has become an integral part of the USC football team as a wide receiver/Wildcat quarterback. With the Gamecocks already bowl eligible, he probably will not be available to the basketball team until the second week of January when the team will already be entrenched in Southeastern Conference play.

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