COLUMBIA, S.C. – Entering his fifth season as South Carolina’s basketball coach, Frank Martin is right back where he started.
Every bit of Martin’s patience was tested in 2012-13 when he was joined for year one in Columbia by freshmen bigs Michael Carrera, Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas.
After four years, all three are gone and Martin’s left to welcome a new trio of freshmen low-post players
Estonia native Maik Kotsar (6-foot-10, 245 pounds) enters via Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan. The highest-rated prospect of the group is Sedee Keita (6-9, 240). The former 4-star played at 22ft Basketball Academy in Greenville, S.C., but he’s originally from Philadelphia. Khadim Guye, who’s from Senegal, attended Victory Rock Prep in Bradenton, Fla.
The group of first-year players also includes Australia native Ran Tut (6-9, 210), who spent two years at Monroe College in Rochester, N.Y., where he averaged 10.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
Finding experienced depth up front for the Gamecocks will be an issue since sophomore Chris Silva is the only returning scholarship forward.
Earlier this month, during his first media appearance of the fall, Martin took a deep breath as he began to speak about his youthful group of big men.
“I think they’re going to be fine. They’re young. They’re going to be nervous. It is what it is. That’s the great thing about having older guys around,” he said. “They can help those guys deal with those moments.”
The veteran presence starts with the senior trio of Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and Justin McKie.
“As good a player as P.J. Dozier is and was last year for us, he was nervous sometimes,” Martin said. “Having Sindarius around to help him deal with those moments, that’s what it’s about.
“I think those young guys are all going to be extremely valuable to us. When you ask me about one guy that’s standing out right now, none of them are, because they’re all kind at the same place on the learning curve. They all bring something positive to the team, which is so important.”
Kotsar was the only first-year post player to make the summer trip to Costa Rica.
“Maik played hard, rebounded the ball,” Thornwell said. “From that point on, he’s gotten better. He’s one of the favorites from the freshmen, because he listens. He’s willing to learn.
“He reminds us of (Kacinas), when he got here and how he’s just progressed and gotten better, how hard he works, how he listens and always has a positive attitude. He wants to get better. That’s one of the things we like about Maik.”
Fans at Colonial Life Arena will have plenty of opportunities to see the new guys in action.
“I think it’s going to be one of those deals that’s kind of by-committee,” Martin said. “They’re all going to play and who plays more and all that will be determined on maturity. It will be determined on the ability to retain information, to manage emotions, things of that nature.
“If you do all of those things, then it minimizes mistakes. When you minimize mistakes, you give yourself a chance to win, so that’s what we’ve got to figure out with those guys.”
Martin believes Silva, who averaged 5.4 points and 4.5 rebounds last season, is ready to lead the freshmen.
“I think Chris Silva is going to take a huge step forward in his understanding of what we’re trying to do and who he is as a player within our structure,” Martin said. “He’s in a much better place, compared to Day 1 last year. He’s been extremely helpful to those other big young kids.”