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March 30, 2011

Hyman: Hoops In 'Transitional Period'

Athletic director Eric Hyman knows many South Carolina supporters are dissatisfied with head coach Darrin Horn and the direction of the men's basketball program in the wake of consecutive losing seasons.

Even when USC was mired in a deep slump in February and early March (the Gamecocks lost nine of their last 10 games and finished with a 14-16 record), Hyman preached patience from fans.

A month later, his message hasn't changed, even in the face of scathing criticism from skeptics unconvinced Horn will be able to lead USC to the promised land.

The uneasiness might have peaked last week when Horn announced three players would be leaving the program - Ramon Galloway, Stephen Spinella and, most surprisingly, Murphy Holloway, who transferred to USC from Ole Miss last spring but intends to return to Oxford.

In addition, starting point guard Bruce Ellington decided to play football and won't join the basketball team until December, at the earliest.

The defections mean USC has just nine scholarship players on their current 2011-2012 roster (includes signees Damien Leonard and Anthony Gill), forcing Horn and his assistants to scramble to fill the void during the late signing period.

"Some people have talked with me about it," Hyman said earlier this week on the 'Inside the Roost' program. "I tried to tell them that we are in a transitional period. Players flipping from one university to another university has been a phenomenon that has been increasing the last couple of years. The numbers have been concerning. You don't have the stability we used to have. Obviously, our men's basketball program is experiencing that."

Horn told reporters late last week that the recent stretch has been difficult to endure.

"We've talked and he's never had anything happen the way it's happened," Hyman said. "Unfortunately, because of some things that have taken place with the basketball program, it's going through some stormy weather."

Hyman continues to maintain Horn is still building the foundation for a winning program, but that it's simply taking longer than anticipated.

"If you want to build a program, you have to do it by first building the foundation," Hyman said. "Right now, we're going through a transitional period."

Hyman compared the current state of the USC basketball program to the football team in late 2008 and early 2009 when USC played lethargically in a 31-14 road loss to Clemson and then five weeks later performed just as poorly in a 31-10 loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

Those discouraging defeats opened the door for some fans to demand change, starting with the head coach. But Hyman stayed the course.

"I heard a lot of consternation from a lot of people at that time," Hyman said. "If we had done what some of the people said at that point in time, I don't think we would be where we are today. I understand the instant gratification mentality today in our society, but there has to be a level of patience."

Two years later, USC captured the SEC East for the first time in school history and routed Florida and Clemson during the regular season-ending three-game winning streak. Hyman is optimistic men's basketball will experience the same type of turnaround.

"We are going through some growing pains," Hyman said. "You have to build the cathedral one brick at a time. Yes, you have to have a little bit of luck and some hard work. But our people can be very appreciative and excited about the product we're putting on the basketball court."

Hyman noted two SEC East rivals reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, while Kentucky will play in the Final Four on Saturday. Overall, five SEC East schools received bids to the Big Dance. USC was the lone divisional school to be left out.

"It was a brutal conference and it was very difficult," Hyman said. "Like the (SEC) West was in football this year, the East was in basketball. That didn't help things as we're trying to build a program. The SEC is tough. To do it the right way takes a little bit longer."

Hyman lauded Horn for 'standing up to his word' and fulfilling a promise made in recruiting allowing Bruce Ellington to play football if he selected that route.

"This is what Bruce wants to do," Hyman said. "The bottom line is we are in this for the young people. We are in it for the student-athletes. Sometimes, we lose sight of that. We're in this to help educate them and help them reach their dreams and goals on the field of competition. He will be welcomed back for basketball and they're going to need him. Darrin is out trying to recruit a point guard in order to have one for next season. Bruce will definitely be behind coming into basketball season and it will be tough. He'll have to make an adjustment. Right now, Darrin is honoring the commitment he made to him."

Hyman laughed at the speculation arising from his lunch meeting with former USC head coach Eddie Fogler, who was a senior basketball players at North Carolina when Hyman was a freshman for the UNC football team.

"I've known Eddie for a long time and we've periodically discussed basketball," Hyman said. "I'm a little bit of a basketball junkie and enjoy talking about it. Apparently, somebody claimed they overheard our conversation and that I was mad at Eddie for hiring Darrin Horn. Just like with the Jadeveon Clowney situation, some people add two and two together and get five."

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