With Gamecocks football currently enjoying a bye week, I'm going to take some time to talk about basketball this week. The Gamecocks will open the season against Western Carolina on 11/11 at home in the Colonial Life Arena.
One thing I'll be particularly curious to see will be the maturation of Eric Smith, the Gamecocks' sophomore point guard. Last year as a freshman, Smith was Bruce Ellington's backup. He impressed a lot of us in that role; in fact, more than a few of us called for him to get more minutes while Ellington struggled late in the season. Smith wasn't perfect, mind you. He lacked consistency with his outside shooting and ability to finish. However, he showed a knack for scoring at times, and where he really shined was in his ability to distribute the ball while limiting turnovers.
This year, Smith is reportedly bigger, has a better grasp of the offense, and has shots thousands upon thousands of baskets over the summer to work on his shooting. Some of you probably watched his recent interview with Andy Demetra; I sensed that Smith is coming into this season more confident than last year.
And why not? Ellington isn't going to rejoin the team until December, at the earliest, and that means that Smith will get his the chance he didn't get last year to be a starter and team leader. If Smith can come out and shine in OOC play, and particularly if he can engineer upsets over UNC (gasp!) and / or Clemson, he could set himself up to be this team's point guard for years to come. That's not to say that he's going to completely supplant Ellington; if Ellington remains with the team, he'll always have a role. But as many of us discussed last year, that role may ought to be as a situational scoring point or shooting guard as opposed to the full-time point guard. If he's improved, Smith may be the guy to fulfill the latter role.