In his fourth season at South Carolina, head coach Darrin Horn is still trying to get the Gamecocks over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament; somewhere they haven't been since 2004. However, the climb to move into the upper half of the SEC has not been easy and it's unlikely to happen this season.
The biggest offseason development involved starting point guard Bruce Ellington who led the team in scoring a year ago. Ellington has decided to play football this fall for the Gamecocks, and while he still plans on re-joining the hoops team once football season ends, it is uncertain as to when that will be. Until Ellington returns to the hardwood, sophomore Eric Smith and JUCO transfer Benton Williams will handle the point guard responsibilities.
The Gamecocks also lose three players to transfer including starting shooting guard Ramon Galloway and Ole Miss transfer Murphy Holloway who sat out last season only to leave South Carolina and re-enroll at Mississippi. Add in the graduation of their top inside player, Sam Muldrow, and Horn will have a roster in which nine of the 11 players are underclassmen.
Malik Cooke is the lone senior on the roster and played well in his first season at South Carolina after transferring in from Nevada. He and junior Lakeem Jackson bring experience to the forward spots but form an undersized duo as Cooke is 6-6 while Jackson is just 6-5. Seldom used sophomore R.J. Slawson and freshman Anthony Gill will hope to provide some depth. Damonte Harris and redshirt freshman Carlton Geathers will attempt to replace Muldrow's effectiveness inside. Geathers is a big body at 6-10, 255 pounds but is not a very skilled big man.
Coming off a decent freshman season, Brian Richardson will likely replace Galloway as the Gamecocks' starting shooting guard. Freshman Damien Leonard should factor into the equation as well.
South Carolina could be in for another long season especially if Ellington's transition from the gridiron to the hardwood takes some time. Horn is learning why South Carolina has not had a winning tradition in basketball, and if his team does not show much improvement this season, he could find himself on the unemployment line next spring.
Player to Watch: Lakeem Jackson, SF
Jackson has started all but two games since arriving in Columbia. He battled a nagging foot injury last season during SEC play which limited his production. Until Ellington returns, Jackson will likely be the team's go-to option on offense along with Cooke. Jackson has played with an edge his first two seasons at South Carolina, and if he can show more consistency with his jump shot, he could really take the next step with his game.