With the signing of Michael Carrera, Frank Martin closed his first recruiting class as the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks. In addition to Carrera (a PF), Martin signed the following players: 2G Thaddeus Hall, PF/C Laimonas Chatkevicius, PG Tarik Phillip, and wing forward Minda Kacinas.
How does Martin's class rate? Overall, I'd give it a B. While that's not a ringing endorsement, there were some positives. Let's talk about those first.
The most impressive thing about this class is that Martin managed to have any success at all. Darrin Horn had solid prospects defecting due to the lack of production and suspicions of Horn's impending departure. The team has been abysmally bad for the past two seasons, with last year's team being one of the worst ever to take the hardwood at Carolina, which is really saying something considering how little success we've had over the years. Fan support was at an all-time low, with hardly anyone showing up to the games. We were thoroughly embarrassed on national television when our arena was full of Kentucky fans for the Wildcats' visit to Columbia.
Even with the immediate excitement that came along with the Martin hire, it was reasonable to believe that we'd have a lot of trouble getting recruits excited about Carolina basketball. Yet, Martin and his staff went out and brought in some very decent prospects. Hall is a player who could play at many good programs but who didn't get a lot of attention due to concerns about his grades. It now sounds like he will, in fact, qualify and suit up for the Gamecocks this winter. Chatkevicius adds size to the roster and is a player the staff is excited about. The other guys look to be role players for the time being, but they're solid prospects.
I also think Martin did a decent job of addressing needs. The best player in the class, Hall, plays at a position where we have some decent talent, but the current starter, Damien Leonard, is a shooter, whereas Hall is more of a full-package scorer who can both shoot well and score off the dribble. I think having both of these guys available gives Martin some good options at 2G that he can use to exploit match-ups, or to go with small lineups with both on the floor. (If I haven't already said so, let me say that I'm hugely excited by Hall. This kid looks like a real player on film. I think he'll play quite a bit this year and will give us several points a night, at least.) Chatkevicius also fills a definite need after the departure of Anthony Gill and Damontre Harris. He also adds offensive prowess to a team that lacked scoring ability last year. As I've said before, I liked the Carrera commitment because we need rebounders, even if Carrera is mostly a situational guy.
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However, addressing needs is also where this class begins to tend towards average in my eyes. Let's start with Chatkevicius, who stands to get a lot of playing time this year in part due to lack of talent at his position, perhaps lining up with R.J. Slawson as our starting front line. Like a lot of European players, Chatkevicius is highly skilled on the offensive side of the floor. He shoots, has a post game, knows how to work the pick-and-roll. However, although his size will give him the ability to hold his own, there are questions about his defensive skills and rebounding. Guess what? Slawson has the same problem--he's a promising offensive talent, but he's struggled to hold his own against elite post players, although perhaps he'll do better this year with another year of strength and conditioning. We could have used a more complete post player to complement Slawson, but we didn't get it.
What really keeps this class from being great, though, is simply the fact that, with the possible exception of Hall, I don't see any players who look like they're elite SEC prospects. Would Kentucky or Florida have signed any of these guys? No, probably not. That's not to say it's a bad class. These are talented basketball players. But it's also to say that it's not an A-level class. Carolina doled out the money and hired Frank Martin because we believe that we can take this program to the level of being able to compete with elite programs. Martin was hired to win SEC titles and to get us back to the tourney. The guys that Martin brought in for this class probably aren't going to be able to do that, at least not immediately, Some of them may be that kind of player by the time they're seniors, but in modern college basketball, you need players who can produce quickly--and certainly Martin needed those kinds of players, considering how little we have coming back next year.
I think it's fair to argue that Martin did the best that he could with what he had available, and while that's commendable, the truth is that we expect results within the next two or three years. The good news is that Marcus Stroman (2014 verbal commitment) and Sindarius Thornwell are in-state prospects who Martin has an excellent chance to bring in. These are the kinds of players who we need to take us to the next level; Thornwell is a huge prospect who Martin absolutely has to get. This year, we got some good players who give us some hope that we won't be absolutely awful next year. But, barring a particularly excellent run of good luck this year, we'll have to wait until next year to get a crack at the players who will bring us back to the NCAA Tournament.