In the wake of Dominique Archie and Devan Downey's decisions to return to South Carolina for their senior season, expectations for Gamecocks hoops are sky high. I think it's safe to say that this is the most experienced, talented team we will have had in Columbia in many years. We lose a key scorer in Zam Frederick. However, we have likely preseason All-SEC players in Archie and Downey, two big men in Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow who could form a solid front line with a little more seasoning, and a cast of role players like Evaldas Baniulis who perform key functions for the team. We also have an incoming freshman in Lakeem Jackson who will be ready to contribute immediately and will be a key player on this team for the next few years. While this team doesn't have the raw talent of a Kentucky or even a Florida, the experience it brings to the table will make us a contender.
We also have Darrin Horn. Horn proved in his first year as our head coach that he could win in the SEC with this lineup using the up-tempo pressing style he developed at Western Kentucky. I expect his success using this system will only improve as he recruits more players like Jackson that fit the mold of what he's looking for. Horn wants mid-sized, rangy players that can play defense and score in transition, players much like Jackson. While in physical terms Downey isn't exactly the type of player Horn seeks, Downey has had success in this system precisely because he can do some of these things. Downey's great speed generates lots of steals and fast break opportunities, which is exactly the idea. Horn will find more players that can do these things and we will continue to get better.
The tactical advantages Horn provides us with, though, are clearly not the only thing he is contributing to USC. Many fans have commented that Horn has changed the feel of the program. He has installed new traditions like calling the student section the "Garnet Army." These changes invigorated the culture of a program that was plagued by a general lack of fan interest over the last few years of Dave Odom's tenure. Archie and Downey's choice to return to USC for their final year of eligibility further illustrates the success Horn is having in this area. We've had problems in the past with players like Renaldo Balkman foregoing their eligibility despite not being projected as lottery picks. And can you really blame them? It's not like they had a whole lot to play for, or at least that was the general perception. I feared that either Downey, Archie, or both might also leave to make some money in Europe instead of coming back to try to fight for USC's first NCAAs appearance in several years. However, both decided to come back. That says a lot about how these two players perceive this program. They see an excited fan base, the chance to be part of something. We have Horn to thank for part of that.
So, kudos to Horn and his squad for all that they have and will accomplish. I'm really excited about the future of this program, and you should be, too.