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July 22, 2014

Carrera: 'I wasn't me'



Michael Carrera considers his sophomore season a disappointment.

The junior forward was happy to see his team come together to win four of its final six games and make a run into the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.

But as the Gamecocks sealed the 2013-14 campaign with a loss to Tennessee in Atlanta, Carrera - a year removed from being named to the SEC All-Freshman Team - knew he hadn't brought enough to the table. Playing in a new position with new teammates or not, his production as a sophomore wasn't going to cut it.

"Personally, I was disappointed about myself," Carrera said on Sunday at the South Carolina Pro-Am. "I wasn't me. I was so frustrated because I couldn't do anything."

Carrera tried to make the move from power forward to small forward last season, with the coaching staff hoping to make the best use of his size and to put him in the best position for a professional career.

But Carrera struggled to adapt to the new role, and his production and confidence shrank noticeably in what some were already considering a sophomore slump by the second month of the season.

He shot 44.3 percent and tallied 9.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as a freshman, but those numbers dipped to 37.9 percent, six points and 5.6 rebounds per game in his sophomore year.

Attitude issues didn't help, and neither did a postgame altercation with a Manhattan player that resulted in a one-game suspension in December. Carrera's struggles appeared to affect his on-court demeanor, and he seemed to make a permanent home out of South Carolina head coach Frank Martin's doghouse.

"It was mental," said Carrera. "I've never played the three before in my life. It was different for me. Like I said, it was a learning experience. Playing the three is something else. It's not playing the four or the five. You've got to run the court, and you've got to handle the ball. That's something that I have to work on and that I'm working on this year."

Carrera - along with South Carolina's other big men - also caught plenty of flak from Martin about rebounding. Too often, the Gamecocks relied on their guards to haul in the bulk of the boards, something Martin was vocal about seemingly every postgame press conference that followed a loss.

Carrera said he went into last season expecting to grab 10 rebounds a game, but that he simply played without the aggression that made him so effective as a freshman.

That tenacity near the basket is something the 6-foot-5, 214-pound Venezuelan is working to get back over the offseason, both in summer workouts and at the S.C. Pro-Am.

A newfound ability to cope with adversity was on display Sunday at the Pro-Am. In the first half of his game, Carrera played sloppily on both ends of the court, struggling to make anything happen near the rim.

And Harlem Globetrotter Ty Beatty didn't make matters any better when he dunked on Carrera on back-to-back possessions.

But rather than lose control, Carrera played through it, putting together a strong second half to finish with 31 points and six rebounds in a close victory.

"As you can see, I take it personal," Carrera said after the game. "When something like that happens, when you get dunked on, you're just kind of like, okay, you've got to go. But it's great. It's a learning experience."

Carrera said he had a heart-to-heart with Martin after last season, and that he's open to doing whatever his coach asks of him next season - even if that means playing the three again.

"I don't care, like I said last year," Carrera said. "I just want to play basketball. It's what I love."

Carrera said he's still working on playing small forward, but that he anticipates playing more at power forward given South Carolina's lack of depth in the frontcourt.

South Carolina lost one of the few big men it had when 6-foot-9 forward Desmond Ringer transferred to Mercer after a year at USC. South Carolina added freshmen guards Marcus Stroman and TeMarcus Blanton to the fold this summer, giving the Gamecocks even more depth in the backcourt.

But no matter where he's placed, Carrera said he's buying into Martin's system - as is the rest of the team.

Now that most of the team's players have at least a year with Martin under their belts, everyone knows what's expected of them and how to manage those expectations, Carrera said, adding that Martin doesn't seem to yell as much at practice anymore.

"I've never been at so fun a practice," Carrera said. "We had practice on Wednesday at 7 a.m., and it's just so fun because everybody wants to work and wants to get better."



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