South Carolina basketball: roster will look much different next season

Jan 2, 2021; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin directs his team against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half at Colonial Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2021; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin directs his team against the Florida A&M Rattlers in the first half at Colonial Life Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports /

The South Carolina basketball team is in flux ahead of 2021 season.

Frank Martin and the South Carolina basketball team experienced a down year in 2020, limping out to a 1-2 start before having the next month of the season shut down due to COVID. The pandemic affected the Gamecocks more than nearly every other team in the country, which led to limited practice time, a shorthanded roster, and a coaching staff that missed time midseason.

The team struggled to recover, resulting in a 6-15 final record and 12th placed finish in the SEC, the worst since Martin’s first season in Columbia. Making things more disappointing was the fact that many had pegged the Gamecocks as a possible NCAA Tournament team prior to the season’s start.

Martin’s future with the Gamecocks was in doubt after the year’s end, but it now appears that he’ll get at least one more season as the head coach at South Carolina. If the pressure of being on the hot seat wasn’t enough, it’s becoming clear that Martin may be rebuilding a roster that’s already seen three players announce that they might not be back in 2021. And don’t think the Carolina fanbase, or athletic administration for that matter, will be giving the tenth year head coach a long leash, even if he’s shuffling to piece together a productive squad over the offseason.

Things started when junior forward Keyshawn Bryant announced that he’d be entering his name into NBA Draft consideration. On the surface, it appeared like a hit to the Gamecock roster, but Bryant doesn’t intend to sign agent, meaning he could ultimately return should he not receive the feedback he’s looking for from NBA front offices. It’s a process that Martin is familiar with, as AJ Lawson has done this in each of the last two seasons before returning to Columbia.

But over the last two days, the Gamecocks have seen two budding contributors enter the transfer portal. Jalyn McCreary and Trae Hannibal both announced earlier this week that they’d be searching for new homes this offseason. Hannibal was the first, and his announcement hurts depth in the backcourt, but McCreary is certainly the biggest hit of the two.

South Carolina was shorthanded in the paint for the majority of the year, and losing one of its better scoring options down low will be tough to overcome. McCreary notched double figures in each of his last three games with the Gamecocks, including a season high 15 against Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament.

With McCreary gone, the Martin has just four true post players in Wildens Leveque, Alanzo Frink, Javon Benson, and Tre-Vaughn Minott. Frink missed the final 18 games of the season with an undisclosed illness, and his health is a question mark moving forward. Benson is a freshman that saw limited action, while Minott joined the team midyear and played in just eight games. Leveque, at the moment, is the lone player from last season’s roster to make a true impact.

And this may not be the end of the line regarding departures from the South Carolina basketball team. Many around the program are predicting a mass exodus from last year’s squad, with no one knowing what the future holds for players like AJ Lawson, Justin Minaya, and Jermaine Couisnard.

It’s now clear that Martin is returning in Columbia, so hopefully he can find a way to hold on to the majority of his contributors. Either way, it’s evident that he’ll have to reload the roster by hitting the transfer portal hard over the next few months. Though Martin signed one of his best classes at South Carolina this past cycle, it’s difficult to rely on freshmen to make immediate impacts, particularly in the paint where the Gamecocks need the most help.

It appears that Martin has already gotten the ball rolling with a few prospects, as reports have come out of him being in communication with a few players on the move in 2021. He’ll need to land some instant impact type contributors to avoid a complete rebuild next year.

We’ll have to see how the rest of the offseason plays out for the program, but whatever the case, it’s looking like Martin will have his work cut out for him in the coming months. And barring an NCAA Tournament appearance next year, his time roaming the sidelines in Columbia may be nearing its end.

**Edit: since the posting of this article, guards TJ Moss (transfer) and Jermaine Couisnard (NBA draft) have also announced intentions to part ways with the program.