Previously suspended following an incident in Five Points in late October, freshman guard Rakym Felder made his Gamecocks debut Sunday night in South Carolina’s 81-49 victory over Holy Cross.
Connecting on both 3-point attempts, Felder scored eight points, dished out three assists and grabbed one rebound in just 14 minutes of action, an encouraging start to his career.
Felder sat on the bench in street clothes for the exhibition game against Newberry before putting on the uniform for Friday night’s season opening win over Louisiana Tech. However, he did not play in USC’s 85-76 victory.
Frank Martin defended Felder in the aftermath of Sunday night’s victory, contending he has jumped through all the hoops necessary to be reinstated back to the team.
“He has never stopped being part of the team,” Martin said after the Gamecocks improved to 2-0 on the young season. “I treat people like they were my kids. If somebody spoke publicly about a mistake my son made when he was 18 or 19, I would never respect that person again.
“Rakym Felder played because it was my decision he has accepted everything that came his way because of his mistake. (AD) Ray Tanner and I have been in direct communication with that. He’s a beautiful kid. Not a good kid, a beautiful kid. Hopefully, they will put that quote in headlines on the front page."
Felder played his freshman high school season at Indian Land High School in Lancaster before moving to New York City and attending Lincoln High School in Brooklyn.
He was arrested Oct. 23 on six misdemeanor charges, including third-degree assault, resisting arrest, public disorderly conduct, use of a fake or altered ID, and failure to stop on police command. He has applied for Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI), a process for first-time offenders by which they undergo counseling and engage in community service.
Felder was quickly suspended but soon reinstated in time for the start of the 2016-17 season.
Felder’s older teammates were happy to see him back on the court after going through his personal difficulties.
“It was good for him and for our team,” Sindarius Thornwell said in describing Felder’s contributions. “He came in and played hard and aggressive, and that helps us out. He is still learning. But he guards the ball. He tries to do everything coach asks him to do after everything he went through earlier in the year. For him to be back out here playing with us is a blessing.”
-- Through two games, the Gamecocks are making 55.3 percent (57-103) of their shots, 50.0 percent (21-42) form 3-point range. USC has eclipsed the 80-point barrier in each of their first two games. The Gamecocks had four players with 2+ 3-pointers led by Thornwell, who was 4-of-6 from long range."It makes me look like a better offensive coach," Martin laughed. "People don't ask me anymore why our offense is so stagnant. The guys are playing with confidence and playing aggressive."
-- Martin credited a solid Saturday practice for the Gamecocks’ performance on Sunday night. “I thought our guys yesterday (Saturday) were in tune with what we were trying to do,” Martin said. “They caught us in a couple of back cuts, but that is what they do. They are going to get a back cut. They just can’t get one every time down the floor.”
-- The Gamecocks had 17 assists on 27 baskets. Through two games, their assist-to-field goal percentage stands at 57.9 percent (33-57). "We're passing the ball," Martin said. "When you pass the ball and the court spacing is pretty good and guys play with confidence, the ball goes in the basket."
-- Freshman Maik Kotsar (6-10) and sophomore Chris Silva (6-9) started at forward, combining for 15 points (6-8 FG) and 11 rebounds while playing 15 and 18 minutes, respectively. But they also combined for seven fouls, limiting their time on the floor. Martin described both players as essential to the Gamecocks. “We have to figure out a way to keep Maik and Chris in the game,” Martin said. “They can’t go in and play three minutes and each commit two fouls. They are our starting center and starting power forward for a reason. You saw what happened in the second half when they stayed on the floor. We got better rim protection, we got better coverage defensively. Offensively, we have two guys prepared to finish and make plays for us on different parts of the floor.”
-- Holy Cross shot 37.8 percent from the floor. The Gamecocks improved to 60-29 under Martin when holding opponents under 45 percent shooting.
-- The Gamecocks return to action Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against Monmouth at Colonial Life Arena. The contest will be televised by SEC Network Plus.