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October 1, 2013

Martin: S.C. Pro Am helped chemistry

When you meet someone new, it takes time to develop chemistry. It takes time to learn their strengths and weaknesses. It takes time to build trust.

With eight newcomers to the University of South Carolina men's basketball team for 2013-14, including seven freshmen, the time it normally would take for that trust to develop has been sped up immeasurably by the fact that every newcomer participated to some degree in the S.C. Pro Am league this past summer, allowing them in some cases to play on the same team (Ty Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell, Michael Carrera and Justin McKie, for example) but affording all of them the chance to watch each other play in a competitive environment against predominantly college and post-college competition.

Does Martin think his team benefited?

"Absolutely," Martin said. "Here's the thing. You have to learn how to play within structure that coaches put together.

"But within that structure, players have to understand players. And they have to understand where this guy likes to play and where he likes to score from. Then as coaches, you have to create structure that puts those guys in those areas.

"Players don't know that unless they've spent time in the gym together, and having the opportunity to do that in the summer, whether it be amongst ourselves or in the Pro Am, or whatever it may be, gave our guys an opportunity to get to know one another."

Playing the most minutes of the newcomers were guards Jaylen Shaw, Thornwell and Johnson and forward Demetrius Henry. Playing fewer minutes due to injuries or other situations were guards Duane Notice and Justin McKie and forwards Reggie Theus Jr. and Desmond Ringer.

Bruce Ellington even played one game, and walk-ons Brian Steele and Austin Constable also played significant minutes. The only returning players who did not appear were Lithuanians Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas. Carlton Geathers attended a few games, but did not play nor is he expected to this season.

The one returner who played more minutes than anyone was senior guard Brenton Williams. His team made it all the way to the championship game, in large part because of his prolific scoring and leadership from the point guard position. He said the Pro Am was a blessing both for him and his new teammates.

"That was really big this summer, playing with the freshmen that were able to play in the Pro Am," Williams said. "That made it much easier for us to feel them out, playing on the same teams with us during the summer and (getting to) watch them play and see what their weaknesses are so when it comes to the real practices, we can tell them what we saw in them that they need to work on and what they need to tighten up and make more sharp."

The star of the S.C. Pro Am unquestionably was sophomore forward Michael Carrera, who week in and week out did most anything he wanted to, always playing with the same high motor and increasing his scoring range from the perimeter, something he'll need this season as he plays the small forward position.

"We played against great players," Carrera said of the Pro Am. "I think that was the main thing. There was a lot of size in there, and we know what to do. Playing with the freshman was pretty good. It was pretty good.

"Now we kind of know what they can, what they cannot do, and I like it. I like this team a lot, and I'm pretty excited."

For Martin, the league offered an opportunity to begin laying the groundwork for the chemistry and trust needed for his program to turn the corner and become what he can't wait to see - an NCAA Tournament contender.

"If you look at the teams that make these great NCAA runs every year, outside of a handful of cases, (they're) usually predominantly upperclassmen, because there's an understanding, there's a sense of urgency to one another that you have to have to have those special moments," Martin said. "Obviously we don't have that experience or that knowledge of each other, but the more time we spend together, the quicker we gain that experience."

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