It's official -- South Carolina's down one returnee for next year's basketball team.
Just not either one of the two that are exploring their NBA options.
Coach Darrin Horn announced on Wednesday that junior center Mitchell Carter will not return to the team next year, agreeing Tuesday night with the player that he'd probably be better off somewhere else. Although he was the team's tallest player, Carter struggled for playing time and ended his USC career with three-year averages of 0.7 points and 0.6 rebounds.
"Mitchell and I had a chance to visit and talk about his future here and his opportunity to contribute," Horn said, "and really just felt like, came to an agreement that he would have a better opportunity to finish his career stronger as a major contributor somewhere else and still do well academically and definitely get a college degree."
Playing on an 11-man team that was reduced to 10 and often nine throughout the 2008-09 season, Horn had little choice but to use every man on his bench. Even then, Carter hardly got on the floor -- his 4.2-minute average last year was the team's lowest, even trailing guard Robert Wilder (4.9).
Horn and Carter thought it'd be best for the big man to find another place, one where he could easily transfer and perhaps play more often. He'll have two years to play his one remaining season of eligibility -- if he switches to a Division I school, he'll have to sit a year; if goes to a lower level, he can play right away.
The move opens another scholarship for the Gamecocks, leaving them possibly two spots to fill. Assuming Devan Downey and Dominique Archie forsake the NBA for their senior years, USC will have eight returnees and four recruits on scholarship.
Carter's departure opens one scholarship and Horn has said if he can find the right player, he will return Wilder to walk-on status and award Wilder's present scholarship to the recruit. While the coach says he's always recruiting, with only two weeks left in the spring signing period, the window to find a player is shrinking.
"We're never against taking another guy we think can help our program," Horn said. "Can I tell you we're going to be announcing somebody tomorrow? I don't think that's going to happen."
The NCAA's Academic Progress Report was due out later Wednesday and Horn said he didn't expect any problems, i.e., loss of scholarships due to poor academic standing. The team posted its second-highest grade-point average in history (2.749) in the fall.
The remaining scholarship (or two) may be filled but if not, and Downey and Archie return, the Gamecocks will have 12 players, eight that played extensively last year and another signee (Johndre Jefferson) that has played two years of junior-college ball.
Horn had no update on Downey and Archie, who have until June 15 to withdraw their names from the NBA Draft. The pair are still undergoing the process of scheduling workouts with pro teams, a difficult task considering the number of players bidding to do the same and the ongoing NBA playoffs.
"It's an unusual process, because of how it works," Horn said. "It's kind of a process that's a little bit of all over the place, but we're starting to move forward with that."
Horn took the time to congratulate his newest hire, L.J. Hepp, who took over as director of basketball operations. His former latest staff hire, Neill Berry, was also there.
Berry was promoted from director of player development to assistant coach after Scott Cherry left USC for the head coaching job at High Point. He said he was looking forward to the opportunity.
"I'm really excited about it," the 27-year-old Berry said. "I'm looking forward to building on what we had this past year and see what we can do."
Horn said that no other teams have been added to the schedule yet, although he's called several major schools. "It's the same challenge," he said. "We've called a ton of whatever you want to call them, BCS, high-major, whatever schools, and we're getting a lot of not even returned calls. Maybe they're waiting to see what happens with the draft, I don't know."
The Gamecocks have confirmed dates with Wofford, Furman, Baylor, Western Kentucky and Clemson and are one of the eight teams in the Charleston Classic tournament in November, where they'll play three games.
Horn finished by saying two of his four-man signing class should be ready to report for the first summer session, while another will be there for the second summer session. The fourth is hoping to be there for the second summer session.
"Eventually we'll get everybody here through the summer," Horn said. "I think championships are won in the summer, I really do."
From conversations with the four recruits over the past few weeks, guard Ramon Galloway and wing Lakeem Jackson are planning to enroll in Summer I while wing Steve Spinella is planning on Summer II. Jefferson, a forward, said he has one class to finish at an in-state technical college before he can transfer but is hoping to be at USC for the Summer II session.