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August 2, 2013

Breaking down the hoops newcomers

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With the S.C. Pro Am exhibition basketball league wrapping up this weekend, Gamecock Central spoke with Carey Rich, the league's commissioner and a former USC basketball captain, to get his breakdown of each of the newcomers to head coach Frank Martin's 2013-14 men's basketball team.

With practice starting two weeks earlier this year thanks to new NCAA legislation - teams now can begin practicing midnight Friday, Sept. 27 - and so many new players counted upon to contribute in a big way, it's time to learn what each player is bringing to the table through the eyes of one of the most respected voices in South Carolina basketball and a man as connected to the basketball coaching staff as anyone not on the Gamecock payroll.

In no particular order, here are Rich's thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of each of the eight 2013 newcomers and the one commitment for the 2014 class who participated, Marcus Stroman.

Sindarius Thornwell, G, FR, 6-5/180, Lancaster, S.C./Oak Hill Academy
"Sindarius is the game changer that South Carolina has desperately needed since Devan Downey. He's a guy who plays with a ferocity, with a toughness. He has a high basketball IQ, and one thing that's going to be big for him is that outside of his skill set, which is really, really good, he believes from the chest up, from a confidence perspective, that he's the best player on the floor. At this level, that will take you a long, long, long way."

Jaylen Shaw, G, FR, 6-0/175, Hartsville, S.C.
"Jaylen has been a pleasant surprise. He's been a pleasant surprise because he kind of flew under the radar for most of the season. A lot of mid-major programs and high-level programs were a little bit afraid to take a chance on him because he didn't have that solidified position of a one- or two-guard, but he's really benefited from playing in the Pro Am league this summer.

"I actually positioned the teams so that he could get more playing time at the point because with Ty Johnson not becoming eligible until December and Bruce Ellington out til January with football, there's a need for Jaylen Shaw to play early. And if he wants to play early, we needed him to get ready to play against full-court pressure, under control, running the team and understanding the flow, the team, understanding time and tempo, and he's benefited more than anybody this summer."

Duane Notice, G, FR, 6-2/195, Oakdale, Conn.
"Duane's a combo (2-3) guard that just knows how to play. He plays with a toughness at both ends of the floor and is a very cerebral basketball player. He's a guy, from the number of times I've seen him play, he makes the right play.

"He plays with a tenacity, he plays with a toughness that's so fitting and consistent with how Frank Martin wants his players to play."

Reggie Theus Jr., F, FR, 6-6/180, Los Angeles, Calif.
"Reggie has a kind of laid-back personality, and I'm curious to see how that's going to translate playing for Frank Martin. You can see flashes. You saw a few times this year where he was just coming out of the weight room before a game, and in fairness, you can't really judge him from that.

"But there were definitely flashes. I like his skill set. I like his in-between game. He seems to be really good from the elbow in, and that's a lost art. Once he becomes comfortable, you'll see what he can do. Another thing for him, he's a West Coast guy, and he's having to adjust to our way of life, our way of living, our way of playing, because it is a different style than West Coast basketball as opposed to the East Coast. Once he becomes accustomed to that and accustomed to how Frank Martin wants them to play, I think he'll be able to impact the team."

Demetrius Henry, F, FR, 6-9/210, Brandon, Fla.
"He's a big-time player. He's a big-time player who knows how to play the game of basketball. He's not going to wow you with any athleticism, he's not going to wow you with high-flying plays, but he knows how to play the game of basketball, and he was a big get for Frank Martin and his staff.

"He's really going to help that program and that team. He has terrific size and nice touch, and because of that, he'll help elevate that program as soon as he touches the floor. He's a four, but he can interchange with a five. He'll probably start at four."

Justin McKie, G, FR, 6-4/175, Irmo, S.C.
"He's a guy who has been injured a little bit this summer. Of course, a lot of people are waiting to see Justin McKie and are curious about Justin. There are probably going to be some unrealistic expectations attached to Justin for the obvious reasons. With his father, BJ McKie, playing at South Carolina and being an all-time great, people are gong to want Justin to be as good as his father was, and that's just not the case.

"But he comes from a basketball program under Tim Whipple at Irmo and brings a tremendous pedigree from that along with his father. The one thing that will help Justin is that he has a toughness and a confidence that will help at this level. He's a two/three, and he has a chance to be really, really good defensively with his range, his length, tenacity and willingness to defend. That's probably where you're going to get the most out of Justin McKie. That's what he'll be able to offer of himself as an asset, on the defensive end."

Desmond Ringer, F, FR, 6-9/260, McDonough, Ga.
"Like Justin, he's been hurt most of the summer, but I saw him play in high school. He's a guy who fits what Frank Martin is looking for out of his post players: A cerebral guy that knows how to play high post to low post, high post to the basket. A guy who plays for Frank Martin as a big has to know how to knock that elbow jump shot down, has to make a post entry pass from the elbow because of the system they play.

"He fits that. He has a big, burly body. As you can see, body-wise, he's already made for the SEC. He looks like a guy who is transferring in from junior college. He'll help Frank from that standpoint as a classic four/five who'll start as a four."

Marcus Stroman, Class of 2014 commitment, G, 6-1, Keenan H.S.
"He's a true point, and he's a guy who is a treat to watch in the open floor because he has huge hands, long arms and a tremendously high basketball IQ who makes the right decision with the ball in his hands over and over. As athletes and scorers around him

"With athletes and scorers around him, Marcus Stroman could potentially be as good as any point guard in the SEC by the time's he's done. And I'm stingy with my praise. But with the right people around him, by the time he's a junior and senior, he has a chance to be one of the best point guards in the SEC. One thing, too, to remember is that for a year he'll also benefit from playing behind Ty Johnson.

Ty Johnson, G, JR, 6-3/185, Plainfield, N.J.
"Ty Johnson offers South Carolina something that it hasn't had in a long, long time - a natural, true point guard who is a pass-first facilitator. He's a guy who understands how to manage the game and run it, and South Carolina hasn't had that in a long time. Ty has terrific size and was highly touted coming out of high school, but it didn't really pan out well for him at Villanova because the way Jay Wright at Villanova wants his guards to play, he wants those guys to break the defense down and score.

"Ty's not one of those guys who prefers to score. He can score, but he's a guy who prefers to pass. So because that didn't work out, he's hungry, he's motivated to show that he's that guy who was a top-40 kid coming out of New Jersey, and he'll be a big, big asset to Frank Martin. He'll be the guy who settles the offense and runs the offense and who will be directly in synch with Frank Martin and the bench, which we haven't had in a long time."

Up Next: The S.C. Pro Am playoffs continue tonight with a game at 5:30 featuring Stroman and Theus and 6:45 with a game featuring Brenton Williams against the team with Johnson and Thornwell. The winner of those two games will play the winners from Wednesday night in the semifinals Saturday at 3:15 and 4 p.m., with the championship game on Sunday at 3 p.m. All games are at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School and are free to the public.

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