There’s a lot to be excited about as South Carolina men’s basketball gets set to tip off the 2023-2024 season with second year head coach Lamont Paris.
“We have a much more seasoned, veteran team, which has played a lot more college basketball games,” said Paris, who went 11-21 in his first season with the Gamecocks and returns seven players while welcoming nine newcomers. “We have guys who are in different stages of their careers, who all have the same goal: to win. These guys are committed to doing anything they can to help us win.”
While last season’s record wasn’t all that he hoped, Paris noted there were some positives that can carry over to this year.
“I was really happy in that our guys showed up every day and kept getting better,” Paris said. “We won 11 games, and had we not made significant improvements throughout the year, there’s no way we would have achieved that. I was happy with how they came to work every day. We had some deficiencies, but we did some good things. We won at Kentucky, and the Clemson game here, and the win at Ole Miss, where we hadn’t won in a long time. There were other games where we were one play away from winning, such as against the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (Alabama), and against Arkansas as well. We had an overtime loss at Georgia and at Vandy. There were so many things that I took away from last year that were tremendous successes in trying to build a program. It sounds crazy to say that, but we had some colossal growth, so coming into this season, I’m very encouraged. We’ve got guys who are hungry to get better.”
Know Your Gamecocks
Junior guard Meechie Johnson returns after finishing second on the team with 12.7 points per game last year and is joined in the backcourt by fellow returning junior Jacobi Wright (7.3 ppg). Other returners include senior forward Josh Gray, redshirt senior forward Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (1.9/3.1), and sophomore guards Zachary Davis and Eli Sparkman. The Gamecocks also look forward to having fifth-year senior guard Ebrima Dibba on the floor after missing all of last year with injury.
“They have all improved,” Paris said. “At times it looks like Josh Gray is the most improved. Other times it looks like Jacobi. Meechie has improved in a lot of areas well.”
The Gamecocks were active in the transfer portal as well, adding four new faces that bring tremendous experience.
“A priority of ours was to get older,” Paris said. “We were such a young team last year and inexperienced. We addressed that. (Graduate Student guard) Stephen Clark (9.5 ppg) has played and started a ton of games at the Citadel. (Graduate Student forward) B.J. Mack (14.1 ppg) has been a multi-year starter at Wofford, and (junior guard) Myles Stute (7.4 ppg) from Vanderbilt has done all that too in this conference, so there’s a tremendous amount of experience that goes with that. (Graduate Student guard) Ta’Lon Cooper (9.9 ppg/6.3apg) from Minnesota is another guy who has played at this level and has played in the NCAA Tournament.
“Those guys are typically less emotional about what happens in a game, whether it’s a call or something another player says. They’re less likely to react in a negative way and more likely to respond to adversity better than guys with less experience. We increased our experience, and we also increased our skill.”
The Gamecocks also added five freshmen with guards Austin Herro, Morris Ugusuk, Danny Grajzl, and Arden Conyers, as well as forward Collin Murray-Boyles.
“I love our freshman class,” Paris said. “Collin Murray-Boyles is a local product, and he has really stood out as a guy that is very competitive and has a tremendous feel for the game. Like most young guys, he’s still learning, but I think he will play with a lot of physicality. Morris Ugusuk from Finland has a feel for the game of basketball that is outstanding, and he’s an incredible competitor. All these guys like to compete.”
Unfortunately, Murray-Boyles will be out for an undetermined amount of time to start the season as he recovers from mono.
What to Look For
With a more seasoned team this year, Paris feels that the team is a lot closer to being able to do what he likes to do offensively.
“We have more guys who are capable of making baskets,” Paris said. “Ultimately, you want to have five guys on the floor who are a threat offensively. While we may not be able to do that every time we have five guys on the floor, we’re significantly closer to doing that than we were last year. Defensively, we’re closer to where we want to be, but there is still room for growth.
“We’ll throw the ball inside a lot more than we did last year. I anticipate it will be much more fruitful when we do throw it in there. That also allows you to get to the free throw line a lot more. It also allows shooters to get some shots when you can get that production from the inside. We’re going to shoot threes because we have guys who can make them. That’s a valuable part of the game. We’ll do a good mix of both. We may not have a lot of great slashers, but we’ll generate offense by cutting, screening, and moving the ball. That will be the biggest generator of offense for us.”
As the Gamecocks prepare for their season opener on Monday against USC Upstate at Colonial Life Arena, Paris is excited to get year two underway.
“Our ability to shoot the ball should be a strength, but we haven’t played in front of 18,000 people with the lights on yet,” Paris said. “So, we’ll see what that really looks like soon. Right now, I feel like we have a multitude of guys who can make a shot consistently. We have a lot of versatility with what we can do offensively.
“You always want to see more defensively, so we’ll just have to see what that looks like as we get into the season. That’s our biggest area where we can grow with defensive connectivity, defensive pride on an individual basis in a one-on-one matchup, and our ability to rebound the ball.
“This group has meshed really well. A big part of it is you have guys that are easy to get along with. They really enjoy spending time with each other.”