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Oct. 2, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina head men’s basketball coach Frank Martin enters his third season at the helm of the Gamecock program this fall. Martin and his staff have put together a competitive schedule for the season, which will feature marquee home contests and play in one of the top tournaments in the country in the Charleston Classic. Martin returns four starters from last season (based on starters for the final game of the year), and returns 11 letterwinners overall, while welcoming three newcomers into the mix. Martin has experience on his roster this season, and a group that understands the rigors of the season ahead.

block_c_hex_36x36.png GUARD PLAY

The Gamecocks will look to senior leader Tyrone Johnson on and off the court this season, as the point guard will be the team’s only senior. Johnson suffered an injury early in the SEC campaign last year, but, prior to that, he averaged 11.2 points and a team-best 3.4 assists. Playing in his first competition since transferring from Villanova in the middle of the 2012-13 campaign, Johnson posted 11 double-figure scoring games and 11 games with at least three assists prior to his injury. Martin looks forward to having Johnson back on the floor leading the team this season.

“For the first time since I’ve been at South Carolina we have experienced guards coming back,” Martin said. “Tyrone Johnson, senior guard, who fully understands what we do, is fully committed to playing the game with our ideas and strategies. He’s going to be a front-line leader as a point guard to our basketball team. When he got hurt last year our team was playing very good basketball, and it was because of his growth as a player within our system.”

Tyrone Johnson

Johnson will be joined by 2014 SEC All-Freshman honoree Sindarius Thornwell and sophomore guard Duane Notice in the backcourt this season. The duo averaged 13.4 and 8.2 points per game, respectively, last season, and combined for nearly six assists per contest. Thornwell led all freshmen in the SEC in points (15.6) and assists (4.0) per SEC game and was a three-time SEC Freshman of the Week honoree. Notice played some of his best basketball of the season during SEC Tournament action last March, averaging 14.0 points and 3.7 assists in three games at the postseason event, which included a season-high 23 points in the victory over Auburn. Notice has worked tirelessly in the weight room during the offseason as well, bolstering his speed and strength.

“When you add [to Johnson’s experience] Sindarius Thornwell, who obviously was voted as one of the top five freshmen in the SEC, and the success he had as a freshman going with the natural progression that freshmen go through as sophomores, we’re extremely excited about his leadership and his commitment to our program. Then you add Duane Notice, who grew as the year went on and played his best basketball of the season in the last three-to-four weeks, and he has continued to move in that direction, just like Sindarius. It gives you three guards with tremendous experience to help lead our basketball team as we move forward.

“You continue to add different parts, such as Justin McKie, Reggie Theus Jr. and Brian Steele, who have all at times in their young careers helped us, whether it be in practice or in games, with the growth of our program,” Martin continued.

Sindarius Thornwell

The above-mentioned sophomores, McKie and Theus, and junior Steele bring valuable game experience to the group. McKie saw action in 17 contests last season, and Theus in 11. Steele has four starts in his career, which has seen him play in 29 contests, scoring points in 18 of those games.

In addition, two freshmen will be added to the mix of guards this season in Columbia native Marcus Stroman and TeMarcus Blanton, from Locust Grove, Georgia. Stroman has been described by Martin as a “competitive” and “passionate” point guard who “is so good at making others look good.” Blanton brings an athletic build and an “ultra-competitive” mindset on both ends of the floor to the team.

“To [the group above] you add two freshmen who we are extremely excited about,” Martin said. “One, Marcus Stroman, is your consummate point guard. The biggest compliment that you can give to anybody is that he makes the other people better–that’s what Marcus does. He is an absolute competitive warrior that knows how to make other players better around him.

“Then you add TeMarcus Blanton who is a 6’6″, long, athletic, high-motor guard who can play multiple positions and will bring a whole lot of energy and enthusiasm and an aggressiveness for our fans to watch as this team unfolds and grows during this coming year.”

block_c_hex_36x36.png INSIDE PLAY

Martin will have experience inside and on the post as well, with juniors Michael Carrera, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas anchoring the group. Carrera averages 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds for his career, and his emotion on the court revs up not only his teammates, but also the crowd of Gamecock fans. Carrera has had to play different roles on the court each season due to necessity, but he embraces the opportunity to play for Carolina. Chatkevicius continues to improve, not only his strength and agility but also his play. Another Gamecock who played his best basketball at the end of last season, he averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in three games at the SEC Tournament last March. Kacinas is a hard worker who has also played out of position on occasion. He is a steady contributor, posting 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for his career.

Laimonas Chatkevicius

“Our inside play, Michael Carrera and Mindaugas Kacinas, have both been tremendous in their willingness to accept playing different roles for our team,” Martin commented. “Mindaugus is trying to play center, Michael playing power forward and last year small forward out of necessity. They’ve both become better players because of those experiences. As they enter their junior year they are stronger, more understanding of what we want, and both have an inner toughness and passion about our team that is second to none.

“When we played well last year, Laimonas created an impact on our basketball team, offensively and defensively. He is a multi-talented young man who presents size and a skill level. As he has continued to get his body in better shape, he has become a more productive player for us and we expect a lot of things from him.”

Sophomore forward Demetrius Henry is also a key part of Carolina’s inside play. He struggled with foul trouble during his rookie campaign, but has worked hard during the offseason to improve his strength and continues to grow as a player.

Demetrius Henry is a young man who as a freshman gave us everything he could,” Martin said. “Again, playing out of position a lot, playing center. And as Laimonas grew it allowed Demetrius to play some power forward, which kind of alleviated his responsibilities and made him more comfortable doing the things that he’s been doing his whole life. As all freshmen do, he went through a growing process and has a better understanding of the physicality, the strength, the speed and the demands of college basketball. He’s put on 20 pounds, and we’re extremely excited about where he’s at during this stage of his career.”

block_c_hex_36x36.png SCHEDULE

South Carolina has put together a challenging schedule for the 2014-15 campaign, one that features home contests against Baylor, Oklahoma State, Clemson, Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee to name a few. The Gamecocks will also play in the Charleston Classic and face Iowa State in a neutral site contest in early January. In the non-conference portion of their schedule, the Gamecocks will face three NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago in Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State, with the possibility of playing five postseason teams, including Akron and Penn State, during the slate. Both Baylor and Iowa State advanced to the Sweet 16. Martin commented on the non-conference schedule when it was released in mid-July.

“Once again we have put together a very challenging schedule,” Martin said. “A schedule to prepare us to find success and be prepared in the SEC. We start with very tough home games, followed by a great tournament in Charleston, and a road game at Marshall, which is one of the most difficult facilities and places to play at. We’re extremely excited about the challenges. Hopefully this schedule will harden our basketball team and prepare it for the unbelievable challenge of competing in the SEC.”

The SEC campaign will see each of South Carolina’s contests broadcast with five games to be aired on the ESPN family of networks, 10 on the SEC Network and three on FSN. The Gamecocks will host nine league contests at Colonial Life Arena during the upcoming season, including matchups with 2014 NCAA Championship Runner-Up Kentucky, Final Four participant Florida, Sweet 16 participant Tennessee, as well as home games versus Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Arkansas. The Gamecocks will face Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and Arkansas in home-and-home series in 2015. With the above mentioned postseason teams from a year ago, the Gamecocks will also face 2014 Postseason NIT participants LSU, Georgia, Arkansas and Missouri, and CBI participant Texas A&M.

While one game time and broadcast designation has not yet been released, South Carolina will see nearly all of its games available to a national audience this season with the inclusion of the newly launched SEC Network.

block_c_hex_36x36.png MISCELLANEOUS NOTABLES

– The Gamecocks will be without freshman guard/forward Shamiek Sheppard who suffered a knee injury during the summer that will sideline him for the 2014-15 campaign.
– Junior guard/forward Brian Steele also suffered a knee injury in early September and was expected to miss eight weeks.
– South Carolina will host Benedict College in an exhibition matchup on Oct. 26, marking the first time the two crosstown universities have met on the hardwood.
– Carolina returns 71.3 percent of its scoring, 88.5 percent of its rebounds and 75.5 percent of minutes played from last season.
– South Carolina’s roster features three freshmen, five sophomores, five juniors and one senior.
– The Gamecocks will begin official practice for the 2014-15 campaign on Oct. 6.