COLUMBIA, S.C. — Frank Martin pleased with new players and the renewed spirit he's seen early on at South Carolina basketball workouts.
The second year coach brought in seven freshmen to the roster and will add Villanova transfer guard Tyrone Johnson in mid-December. And so far, Martin likes the upgrade in ability and potential he sees from the younger players. He's also enjoying the spirited workouts filled with chatter and shouting among players, something the Gamecocks didn't have much of at times during a 14-18 season.
"I went home and I was extremely excited about our possibilities," Martin said Tuesday. "There were times during our first season that you thought you were in a morgue. And that's not taking a shot at guys, that's the truth because they were trying to figure out what I want."
These guys, especially the handful of returnees, understand Martin and his system much better than a year ago and have prepped the new players on that throughout the offseason. "Now, the guys who've been around they don't shut up and that's the way it should be," Martin said.
Martin's was about the only voice you heard last season as the team endured its fourth consecutive losing season and the first for Martin as a college head coach. Martin vowed things would change and during the offseason four players from the tenure of former coach Darrin Horn transferred, meaning the Gamecocks will enter the season with senior Brenton Williams as the team's lone upperclassmen.
The Gamecocks figure to get a bit more experience when Johnson becomes eligible after this semester and point guard Bruce Ellington finishes his duties on the football field. Still, it'll be Martin and the young guys attempting to move up in the Southeastern Conference.
"We're not there, but we're further ahead in some respects," he said.
The other side of the coin for Martin comes when he turns on practice footage and sees the mistakes in effort, placement, technique and fundamentals that all come with young players. Martin says all the errors are and will be corrected, but he sees something he can build on with the Gamecocks.
"I see from the freshman a courage to make a play that you've got to have to be good," Martin said.
The young Gamecocks include freshman Sindarius Thornwell, a 6-foot-5 guard who played at Oak Hill Academy last season and was considered the top prospect from the state of South Carolina. South Carolina added size with 6-9 forwards Desmond Ringer and Demetrius Henry.
The biggest addition, once eligible, might be Johnson, a savvy guard who's been a leader since starting workouts with the Gamecocks last season. Martin says Johnson's been instrumental in teaching young guards defensive technique.
The Gamecocks returning players also took significant steps forward. Martin said energetic 6-6 forward Michael Carrera, the team's top returning rebounder, is healthy after dealing with a hip injury through much of his freshman season a year ago.
Williams, the Gamecocks' only double-digit returning scorer, has added muscle, hops and quickness to his game, according to Martin. "And I think I heard him talk," Martin joked, referencing Williams' penchant not to be a vocal player.
Williams says that's changing in his final South Carolina season as he feels more confident in his play and more comfortable playing for Martin, possessor of the withering glare when things don't go the way they should on the court. Williams believes he must alter his style to keep the Gamecocks moving forward.
"I just want to have a better year than I did last year," he said. "That's one of my main goals here."
Carrera said the work put in by everyone on South Carolina's roster is evident in the early sessions.
"We mesh and do a lot of stuff together," he said. "We understand each other a lot and I think we're doing the same thing [at practice], too."