Basketball notebook: Horn seeing progress

With just ten days before the Gamecocks take the court for their first exhibition game, new coach Darrin Horn spoke briefly with the media on Tuesday about the progress the team has made. Little has changed since Horn spoke to the media last Friday, but the first fifteen minutes of practice were open to the media, and there are a few bits of news to report.

Predictably, not much was on display in the first fifteen minutes of practice. The players stretched and jogged, then did some simple defensive drills. In that short time, however, Horn's defensive philosophy was on display. The players worked on denying the pass at the top of the key, denying the pass on the wings, and denying the pass in the lane. The way coaches were yelling, "Deny! Deny! Deny!" you would have thought the Gamecocks had a set of triplets named "Deny."

When a reporter asked Horn if he thought he would have to use more zone this year as the players learned his defense, Horn laughed. "You're way ahead of me. I wish I had that much time. I think that we're going to be open to whatever options we need based on how things are going with our team. That's a little bit down the road for us." He went on to say, "You're always tweaking it based on your personnel. A system is a system for everybody, but you're going to do what gives your players the best chance to be successful relative to their abilities."

Center Mitchell Carter will look different when he takes the court this season. Carter has a new tattoo on his bicep. The court Carolina plays on also has a new look. Gone is the paint in the "paint," and there is a new center court logo that features the words "South Carolina" and "Colonial Life Arena."

Horn shared a story of something that happened to him at a recent coaching clinic. Explaining how a coach takes different schemes and tactics and melds them into his own strategy, he talked about a high school coach who had been delving into the virtues of the full court press on defense. "He's talked to me, and he's talked to Coach [Oliver] Purnell, and he's talked to his buddy that presses," Horn recalled. "[I asked] are you going to do it, and he said, ‘I don't know if I can give up an easy layup.' Sometimes you adjust it based on what you can live with."

Aside from Carter's new ink, a few other Gamecocks looked a little different. Zam Fredrick is noticeably bigger in the upper body. Sam Muldrow has added some weight. He is still thin, but he is not as slender as he was last season. Evka Baniulis is not a body builder, but he looks more fit than last season as well.

Fans and players are constantly comparing the Horn Era to the Dave Odom Era, but Horn refuses to join in. He repeatedly insists that he entered the season with a blank slate, and he is starting from scratch with each player. "I can't hold them in contempt for anything that I didn't have anything to do with or experience," he said. "We've been pleasantly surprised with all of them. We came in with an attitude and a mindset that we're going to work really hard and try to make these guys better, and I think they're doing that."

Carolina will open the season November 14 against Jacksonville State. Next Friday, November 7, they will host an exhibition against Kentucky Wesleyan that will be open to the public. The Gamecocks will also hold a closed scrimmage against another school, but details about that are not available to the public at this time.

Senior Branden Conrad was pegged by Odom as a key player prior to last season, but Conrad played just 48 minutes in 10 games. Horn is not repeating Odom's prediction, but he said he expects Conrad to contribute some. "We're counting on everybody that we have to play defense and do what they do well," said Horn. "Branden is a young man who is a shooting threat. He is extremely tough and he's got a good mind for the game. We want him to come in for however many minutes that is, and do those things for us."

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