After last college basketball season, the fan in me will be forever indebted to South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Sindarious Thornwell for memories of a lifetime.
I grew up during what South Carolina basketball fans have long referred to as the glory years under Frank McGuire. Never mind that the only national championship McGuire won was when he was coaching North Carolina in 1957. He still did the improbable at South Carolina, raising the Gamecocks’ program to national prominence — primarily during a time when a school had to win its conference to play in the NCAA tournament.
He led USC — THE USC — to four straight NCAA tournaments, including three Sweet 16s. And he might have eventually taken the program even further if not for the ill-advised decision the school made to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference and the athletic department infighting between McGuire and football coach/athletic director Jim Carlen. It was more complicated than that. It always is when egos clash, and McGuire wasn’t without his share of the blame.
But because he had all the power, Carlen won and basketball lost. Still, before that all transpired, McGuire led the Gamecocks to six 20-plus win seasons, a regular-season ACC title in 1970 and a tournament title in 1971.
It’s because of McGuire that my brain has been imprinted with memories of numerous players from his days in Columbia from 1964-80, a period that overlapped my high school and college years. I graduated from Carolina — THE CAROLINA — in 1976. One of my first stories as a student journalist was a feature on Alex English and Mike Dunleavy being invited to the Olympic trials.
My All-McGuire Gamecocks team? It’d be guard heavy starting with John Roche and Bobby Cremins and include Kevin Joyce, Brian Winters and Dunleavy. I spent hours playing one-on-one, even one-on-none, pretending to be all of the above.
But you can’t be USC basketball fan without also paying tribute to Skip Harlika, Tom Riker, Casey Manning, Nate Davis, Zam Frederick or English. And many more.
But now its a new era and another Frank M who is in charge of my alma mater’s basketball program. And while the preseason predictions that are quick to kick the Gamecocks into the SEC’s lower echelon, I’ll keep the faith and hope Martin finds his magic touch as he begins to rebuild.
But back to the predictions. They aren’t good.
Athlon picks South Carolina as the 12th best team in the SEC because of the losses of Thornwell, P.J. Dozier and Duane Notice.
Lindy’s is more generous, if you consider being picked 11th a more favorable assessment.
But we all were reminded in April just how insightful preseason predictions are when it matters most. For me, that’s enough to keep my hopes up another season.