With tip-off just around the corner, South Carolina held its annual men’s basketball media day on Wednesday afternoon at the Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks, under first-year coach Frank Martin will hold an open basketball practice on Friday at 5:45 p.m. and host Kentucky Wesleyan for the first exhibition on October 30 at 7 p.m.
Senior Lakeem Jackson will be one of the key cogs on the defensive end of the floor
Defense the early word
With a coaching change, different philosophies and strategies always arrive with the new coach. Under Martin’s watch, South Carolina has seen one of those different philosophies being more emphasis put on the defensive side of the court early during the preseason camp.
Last year, the Gamecocks ranked 246th out of 338 teams in field goal defense allowing opponents to make 44.6 percent of their shots. Gamecocks sophomore Damien Leonard admitted on Wednesday at the team’s media day things are not the same under the new coaching staff.
“It is a lot different than last year,” Leonard said. “At first it was a lot different but we had to get use to it and I think a lot of players have adjusted to what the coaching staff is wanting from us.”
Junior forward R.J. Slawson agreed with Leonard that this coming season things will be different for the Gamecocks in how they attack the opposing team’s offense.
“Defense is important to the staff,” Slawson said. “Our defense is going to be tough this year. It is more aggressive and controlling. We want to make the offense do what they don’t want to do.”
Last season at Kansas State, Martin’s ball club limited teams to shooting just 40 percent from the field placing them 55th nationally in field goal percentage defense. Martin’s teams have been known as physical ball clubs that like to play man-to-man to force you to beat them off the dribble.
Point guard Eric Smith will be one of the players in charge of slowing down the opposition’s guard play and hopes to limit the offensive execution.
“They are very strict on ball pressure and taking away the first pass,” Smith said. “We want to take teams out of their offense and that has been the main emphasis and I think that is going to lead to us winning games.”
Whether or not improvement will be seen in year one under Martin is still a question to be answered. The coaches have made it clear the level of effort expected from their players.
According to guard Brian Richardson, the coaches make their point every day in practice that the difference in teams will likely come on one end of the court.
“They tell us everyday just how important our defense is because we play in a tough league like the SEC,” Richardson said. “That is going to be harped on each and every day in practice because we have guys just as good us. The difference in games will be who can wear down the other team, so we will have to play defense.”
All eyes on Ellington
When the Gamecocks open their season in November, they will still be missing a key cog in their system until guard Bruce Ellington. For the Gamecocks to be successful in 2013, they will need Ellington to return and be able to contribute quickly.
Ellington’s cousin and close friend, forward R.J. Slawson, has kept an eye on the 5-foot-10 point guard/wide receiver this fall and has been impressed with him on the football field while also patently waiting on his return to the basketball team.
“He has had a pretty good year so far out there catching passes and doing his thing,” Slawson said. “We will be excited to get him back though because he is another good guard and tough guy. Because he is a tough guy I think he is going to fit in with what we are doing and how the coaches want to play.”
Transfer guard LaShay Page arrived to campus in August and did not have a chance to work with Ellington or really get to know him during the summer. Still, the senior is looking forward to his return and offered his opinion of Ellington’s skills.
“I have seen him play in a few games last year,” Page said. “He is a great player, explosive, quick and I am thrilled for him to get back and see what type of chemistry we can have.”
Last season it took Ellington a few games to get back into rhythm before being able to make a significant contribution. According to Slawson, the junior point guard has spent plenty of time trying to make sure he will be ready to help out sooner this year.
“He has been here watching film and trying to learn some of the stuff,” he said. “I feel like he is going to fit in perfect when he gets back in and that it is not going to take him very long at all to get adjusted.”
A tough preseason camp has left the Gamecocks with at least one banged up player. Leonard showed up to Wednesday’s media day sporting a bandage over his nose. It was an injury that had occurred a day earlier and came from the elbow of one of the freshman.
“I got elbowed to the nose going up for a rebound in practice,” Leonard said. “Michael Carrera got me yesterday and then helped me up and apologized for it happening.”
Asked during the media session if he knew the extent of his injury and if he would have to wear any protective gear early in the season, Leonard responded by saying that he was not sure how bad the injury was and hoped it would not require a mask.
Over the summer, the Gamecocks suffered two other injuries to post players. The most severe injury was to Carlton Geathers, who fractured his right knee camp during a pro-am game. Geathers is not expected back until January but was not sure upon his return when he might be able to get back out on the court.
The other injury to the Gamecock roster was a pulled hamstring to Slawson that was sustained during a pickup game. Slawson added on Wednesday that he has had no lingering effects and has been 100 percent the entire preseason.