COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Frank Martin is confident South Carolina will take a step forward next season, no matter who is on court for the Gamecocks.
The seventh-year coach understands he’s got a couple of high profile dominoes left to fall in all-Southeastern Conference forward Chris Silva and highly regarded Louisville transfer Brian Bowen Jr., both who’ve declared for the NBA draft without hiring agents.
Whatever decision they make by the NCAA’s withdrawal deadline of May 30, Martin believes his team is poised to improve next fall.
“I’m in a good place with our roster,” Martin said Wednesday.
It hasn’t always appeared that way since the Gamecocks, a Final Four team in 2017, ended up 17-16 and out of the postseason.
Martin dismissed expected point guard starter Rakym Felder , arrested twice for fighting in less than a year, for not following through on the coach’s expectations upon his return to the program last January. Three reserves in guard David Beatty and forwards Khadim Gueye and Ibrahim Famouke Doumbia all transferred. Then Silva and Bowen, who must be reinstated by the NCAA for his role in a federal investigation into college basketball corruption, opted for the NBA.
Martin stands by his player development skills, highlighted by four-year starter Sindarius Thornwell, the star of the Final Four run and now on the Los Angeles Clippers.
“The ones that stay here get better, Martin said. “And the guys who played the most minutes are all coming back.”
That group is led by forward Mike Kotsar and guards Justin Minaya and Hassani Gravett, who combined for 85 starts last season. Kotsar, at 6-foot-10, was South Carolina’s third-leading scorer at eight points a game last season. Minaya, a freshman last year, was the Gamecocks’ best defender in Martin’s eyes and is ready to take a big jump as a sophomore. Gravett got most of the time at point guard last year and despite some reckless play — “Hassani drove me nuts last year,” Martin said — should develop as a decision maker this offseason.
Add Silva, the SEC’s co-defensive player of the year, and Bowen to the mix and “we’re pretty close,” Martin said.
Martin likes that Silva and Bowen are taking the opportunity to find out their status among NBA teams. Silva has worked out with Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City, although he was not among the initial invites to the NBA draft combine in Chicago starting May 16.
Martin said he talks with Silva almost every day.
Bowen’s situation is different in that he has not yet played college basketball . He signed with Louisville, then was suspended when it came to light he was part of the FBI’s probe into the sport. Bowen was suspended by Louisville, then enrolled at South Carolina in January. The 6-foot-7 Bowen of Saginaw, Michigan, was part of practices for the Gamecocks this year.
Martin said Bowen declared for the draft to keep his options open should the NCAA not reinstate him. If were up to Bowen and his family, Martin said, Bowen would be a Gamecock next season.
Martin said Bowen’s mother told the coach that joining South Carolina has made the player “the happiest she’s seen him in a long, long time.”
South Carolina is hopeful the NCAA will make a timely decision on Bowen, who still must sit out another semester even with NCAA clearance before taking the court.
“We all understood” the uncertainty of the process when Bowen signed with South Carolina last winter, Martin said.
Even without Silva and Bowen, Martin believes there is talented help on the way in guards T.J. Moss and Jermaine Couisnard. Moss had offers from UConn, Florida and Mississippi State among others while Cousinard had offers at Illinois, Louisville and Virginia Tech.
Former Georgetown point guard Tre Campbell said this week that he will join the Gamecocks for next fall.
“There are good things happening,” Martin said.