COLUMBIA, S.C- College basketball in Columbia, South Carolina has always been dominated by the ladies. Head coach Dawn Staley has led the Gamecocks women’s basketball team to the sweet sixteen in every season since 2013. She has added two national championships, her most recent last season, and has signed a multitude of five star talent out of the state of South Carolina.
Then there’s the men’s team. Aside from a magical final four run in 2017, the men’s basketball team has failed to reach the tournament since. They’ve made it to the sweet sixteen a mere four times in program history, and following a 19-13 season last year, head coach Frank Martin was shown the door. Eight Gamecocks followed him out.
Leaving new head coach Lamont Paris, who led Chattanooga to a NCAA tournament berth last season, a steep hill to climb if he wanted to compete in the 2022-2023 season. He however, got to work early, wooing five star forward and South Carolina native G.G. Jackson away from the University of North Carolina and to Columbia. Jackson is the first player to decommit from the Tar Heels since J.R. Smith in 2003 who pursued the NBA draft.
Jackson is a rising star, and will be the centerpoint of the Gamecocks offense at just 17-years-old. Jackson, who attended Ridge View High School in Colombia, South Carolina and was honored for a number of awards including South Carolina Gatorade Players of the Year and the class of 2023 No. 1 recruit led his team to the Class 5A State Championship before reclassifying last year. He joins a list headlined by Emoni Bates and Jalen Druen to reclassify and forgo their senior high school seasons.
Through 14 games this season G.G has shown that he’s the real deal. He’s averaged 17.2 points per game and added 7.5 rebounds from the forward position. Jackson has shot a steady 42%, a number that Paris and the Gamecock faithful would like to see rise.
The true freshman hasn’t disappointed though, and for him to be the focal point of a new and evolving offense, the Gamecocks and Jackson can be proud of the work they’ve accomplished so far this season.
To help Jackson this season, sixth year senior Hayden Brown has averaged 11.5 points per game while shooting 42.1% from the field from the forward position. Brown, who Paris lured from the Citadel this offseason, has averaged 18.8 points in each of the last two seasons. His biggest contribution however, is the leadership and experience that he brings to an otherwise young and evolving program.
In his five seasons at the Citadel, Brown has played his fair share of college basketball in 111 appearances. From the outside, Paris might have seen a mentor for his young star in Brown.
In the backcourt, senior Chico Carter Jr. who transferred to Columbia following the 2019-2020 season has averaged 11.3 points per game while shooting 49% from the field and 50.9% from three. Previously playing at Murray State in his freshman and sophomore seasons Carter Jr. supplies even more mentorship to Jackson from the backcourt.
A Colombia native, Carter Jr. also adds to a growing wave of South Carolina natives who are staying home and becoming Gamecocks. Previously, the state of South Carolina has been poached by SEC and ACC rivals during the recruiting process.
The class of 2023 features one three-star-recruit from the state of South Carolina who has committed to the Gamecocks. The two four-star-recruits are headed to Michigan State and Mizzouri.
While South Carolina isn’t the most talented state for basketball recruits, if Paris wants to rebuild the program he’s going to need to garnish support in the community. That starts with getting hometown players to stay home.
Take what the women’s program has done recruiting several players from the state of South Carolina. Class of 2022 five-star guard Talaysia Cooper is from Tuberville, South Carolina and five-star forward Ashlyn Watkins hails from Columbia.
Not to mention, the women’s program averages an attendance of over 12,000 per game while the men’s team struggles to sell 4,000 seats a game.
Jackson and Paris teaming up will surely prove to be a project in itself. Both men, who’ve enjoyed success for a large portion of their careers are tasked with rebuilding, rebranding, and reinventing a South Carolina program that is known for killing time until football season.
To add dirt to the hill South Carolina’s leadership is tasked with climbing, or better yet, the mountain, they play in a recently reinvented SEC basketball conference that features No. 7 Alabama, No. 8 Tennessee, No. 13 Arkansas and No. 22 Auburn.
So far this season the Gamecocks are 7-7, a record that they have a lot to be proud about. Still, Paris’s team has been inconsistent this season and lacks depth from the bench.
Key wins against Clemson early in the season, Georgetown in overtime, and against Jackson’s would be star classmate Emoni Bates and a talent infused Eastern Michigan squad has helped to boost the hopes of Gamecocks fans everywhere, but there is still a long way to go.