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November 7, 2012

Breaking down the Gamecocks



South Carolina begins its season on Sunday. A look at the Gamecocks' roster.

USC schedule: Click

LAKEEM JACKSON
Position: Forward
Class: Senior
Height: 6-5
Number: 30
2011-12 statistics: 31 games, 12 starts, 3.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 24 steals, 37.5 FT pct.
The skinny: Everyone's hoping that this will be the year that Jackson finally breaks out. Not like he has many more chances. Jackson has always played hard, is a great defender, athletic and can be counted on for at least one acrobatic, freaky layup per game. The problem is, he hasn't been an option on offense for his first three years. He's not a good jump-shooter, meaning he has to take the ball inside, but opponents quickly figured out that if they just hack him on his way to the basket, Jackson was not going to hit two free throws. The Gamecocks have had to go four-on-five on the offensive end with Jackson in the game. Perhaps that changes this year - if Jackson can just have that 10- or 12-point game right away …

LASHAY PAGE
Position: Guard
Class: Senior
Height: 6-2
Number: 0
2011-12 statistics (Southern Miss): 33 games, 32 starts, 11.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 18 steals, 35.2 3-point pct.
The skinny: Strange to see a first-year transfer come in and already be looked at as the team's best player and one of its leaders? Looking at what USC lost, it's not strange at all. Page likes the responsibility and says he can handle it; USC fans still haven't seen him play, as a tweaked hamstring held him out for both of the team's scrimmages (open and closed). The Gamecocks have to have a go-to scorer, someone with the ball in his hands as the seconds tick away. With Bruce Ellington gone until January, Page is the best fit for that description.

SHANE PHILLIPS
Position: Guard
Class: Senior
Height: 5-10
Number: 55
2011-12 statistics: One game, no starts, 1.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg
The skinny: The old man of the team - Phillips was brought to USC as a preferred walk-on practice player under Dave Odom - Phillips usually dressed last year but only played in one game. Look for the same this year. He has the best chance to play among the group of walk-ons (not counting Ellington), but he is mostly on the team for practice.

BRUCE ELLINGTON
Position: Guard
Class: Junior
Height: 5-9
Number: 23
2011-12 statistics: 24 games, 15 starts, 11.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 16 steals, 74 assists, 54 turnovers, 33.1 3-point pct.
The skinny: Martin was adamant that Ellington would not even practice with the team until football season was completely over, saying that it would be unfair to Steve Spurrier to bring in Ellington in the month of bowl practice, because Ellington might get hurt. That leaves him out until the start of SEC play, and then he has to work himself back into basketball shape - that shouldn't take long, if at all. Ellington has kept up with the team's strategies and plays (the beauty of technology being that Martin can place the dope on DVD or have it available for Ellington's iPad), but has only worked out with the team, not practiced. It will be interesting to see how quickly Ellington resumes his spot at point guard - like last year, it may depend on how well Eric Smith does in his absence.

BRIAN RICHARDSON
Position: Guard
Class: Junior
Height: 6-4
Number: 2
2011-12 statistics: 25 games, two starts, 3.2 ppg, 1.0 rpg, six steals, 10 assists
The skinny: Frustration defines Richardson's first two years in Columbia, on his part and on the part of the fans. Pigeonholed as an outside shooter, Richardson never had the confidence to keep shooting 3-pointers when the first one missed; to his credit, that was the game plan he was told to stick to and he did it. With Martin in place, and making it clear that he wants makers, not shooters, Richardson has changed his game. He's back to his best option, which is slashing to the basket, and his frame makes him a matchup problem, because he can always stop-and-pop anywhere inside the arc. Everybody wants to see that first shot go down for Richardson - playing inside more, there's a much better chance of that happening.

R.J. SLAWSON
Position: Forward
Class: Junior
Height: 6-8
Number: 33
2011-12 statistics: 31 games, five starts, 4.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 20 blocks
The skinny: Rangy and athletic, Slawson will never be the classic big body on the block, but he can be a productive forward, particularly if he plays the best part of his game - getting the rebound and going back up. Slawson's biggest problem is playing timid. Martin has stressed that he likes what Slawson can do, but he won't put up with anybody playing scared. What Slawson has to do is be fearless going for rebounds and keep playing defense the same way he always has. The Gamecocks need him.

ERIC SMITH
Position: Guard
Class: Junior
Height: 5-11
Number: 5
2011-12 statistics: 28 games, 13 starts, 4.1 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 33 assists, 36 turnovers, 11 steals
The skinny: Another player who has had issues with confidence, Smith knows that the point guard spot is his for at least half the season. He needs to reward Martin's trust in him by directing the offense and continuing to do what he did during the exhibition - driving to the basket and finishing the fast break. Smith has the speed and the vision to play the spot, but his ball-handling, while improved, has been suspect. One thing that may help him is the Gamecocks' half-court offense is questionable at best. No need to pass if USC is scoring everything on the break or on put-backs.

BRENTON WILLIAMS
Position: Guard
Class: Junior
Height: 5-11
Number: 1
2011-12 statistics: 23 games, no starts, 6.1 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 15 steals, 39.4 3-point pct.
The skinny: A player that may be the best-kept secret in the SEC, Williams is primed to have a big year. While his first season was spent getting used to big-college basketball, Williams is comfortable now. So fast that he's able to run past defenders in the half-court, able to shoot from anywhere, including slashing to the rim despite his height, Williams will be a valuable asset. He and Page ought to be the most productive scorers early, and when Ellington returns, USC will have a powerful three-guard set.

CARLTON GEATHERS
Position: Center
Class: Redshirt sophomore
Height: 6-10
Number: 45
2011-12 statistics: 28 games, one start, 1.0 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 17 blocks
The skinny: Geathers was improving game-by-game, and while he may not have started this year, he was going to play. He was the guy that would only play five minutes, but in those five, he would get a couple of rebounds, a stickback and a block or two. A knee injury during the offseason has him out indefinitely, and while the calendar says he could come back by mid-January, Geathers would still have to get himself back into basketball shape after not being able to run for so long. It doesn't look good that he'll be able to play this season.

DAMIEN LEONARD
Position: Guard
Class: Sophomore
Height: 6-4
Number: 32
2011-12 statistics: 31 games, 20 starts, 6.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 31.6 3-point pct.
The skinny: Brought in as a high-profile recruit, Leonard's freshman year was disappointing. While he had flashes of greatness, most of the year was spent watching Leonard take 3 after 3 and hardly ever hit them. He refused to drive the ball at first, before changing his mind later, and his defense was, to be kind, suspect. That won't last in Martin's system. Leonard will have to defend first, and start making shots, however he can. Otherwise, he'll be keeping a seat warm.

MICHAEL CARRERA
Position: Forward
Class: Freshman
Height: 6-5
Number: 24
2011-12 statistics (high school): 13.2 ppg, 12.2 rpg
The skinny: Another player that will be fun to watch, Carrera has already made himself known for bringing constant energy to the court. A hellacious defender - with a 7-foot wingspan - Carrera is constantly running, which is ideal for USC's preferred brand of offense. He needs to work on being an offensive threat in the half-court, but other than that, he's as ready a freshman as there is in the league.

LAIMONAS CHATKEVICIUS
Position: Center
Class: Freshman
Height: 6-11
Number: 14
2011-12 statistics (high school): Not available
The skinny: Chatkevicius will play. He has to, with no other real center on the roster. It will be a learning experience. While Chatkevicius can do a lot of good things, like displaying a great shooting touch despite his size, he's also transitioning from European basketball to the SEC. There will be cringe-worthy moments. The hope is that those can be countered one-to-one with productive moments.

AUSTIN CONSTABLE
Position: Guard
Class: Freshman
Height: 6-0
Number: 12
2011-12 statistics (high school): Not available
The skinny: Like Phillips and Brian Steele, Constable will mostly be used as a practice body this season. The contributions are no less important, but it would be a stretch to see him in uniform this year.

MINDAUGAS KACINAS
Position: Forward
Class: Freshman
Height: 6-7
Number: 25
2011-12 statistics (high school): 23.6 ppg, 12.1 rpg
The skinny: Another in the line of Martin's European influence, Kacinas is another player that can do a lot of things - score from anywhere, play inside and out, be tough on defense. Like Chatkevicius, and really anyone, he'll have to play because of the numbers. If he can do good things while he's out there, his minutes will rise. He should already have the discipline of the game down, so if he can get scoring and defensive production to go with it, the Gamecocks will benefit.

BRIAN STEELE
Position: Forward
Class: Freshman
Height: 6-5
Number: 35
2011-12 statistics (high school): Not available
The skinny: Added with Constable late in the preseason, Steele will help out in practice. Like the others, it's doubtful that he will be in uniform this season.



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