Although this has looked like something of a foregone conclusion for a week or two, Southern Miss 6'2" 2G LaShay Page finally pulled the trigger to become a Gamecock during an official visit to Columbia this weekend after some sources were reporting that he had already made up his mind last week.
Page is on track to graduate from USM this summer, which apparently makes him immediately eligible under NCAA Rules as a post-grad player - though some outlets report that he still needs a NCAA hardship waiver if he is to play immediately. In any event, he may also need a waiver from the SEC, which has proscribed post-grad transfers in hoops effective last season (for some unknown reason since it's all the rage in football). Page lost his mother in February, and needs to play closer to his five year old daughter who lives in Marion, South Carolina. Hopefully, the SEC solons (and their NCAA overlords if need be) will cut him and Coach Martin some slack.
A native of Latta, South Carolina, Page was a non-qualifier out of Dillon H.S. and played J.C. hoops in Florida before signing with Southern Miss as a three-star prospect. He was a role player for the Golden Eagles during his sophomore season [2010-2011] - starting just 1 game and averaging 18 minutes and 6.2 ppg and 2.1 rpg. During the 2011-2012 campaign, however, he became a key contributor in Hattiesburg - averaging 39 minutes per game, with 11.6 ppg and 3.5 rbg - and shooting a decent .380 from the floor, .352 from the arc and .821 from the stripe. One has to imagine that Page will only improve under Martin's tutelage. He will have two years of eligibility to wear the Garnet and Black.
Keep reading about LaShay Page after The Jump.
Interestingly, Coach Martin got a chance to see Page in action in the first round (these days officially called the second round but you know what I mean) of the 2012 NCAA Tourney, where K-State beat USM 70-64 in a game that got a little chippy. Page played a full 40 minutes, and hung 15 on the Wildcats with 4 boards. Not a bad audition, huh?
Over at Life of a Gamecock, Adam Garret opines that Page will bring a scorer's mentality to our backcourt which we'll need while Bruce Ellington plays football (assuming he returns to the hardwood at all). I also agree with Flounder at Leftover Hotdog who says that with Page the hoops team "gains a guard that can both score and dish. He's a veteran player who knows what it takes and with a semi-young team, this could be a needed boost in 2012." At his SportsTalkRadio site, Phil Kornblut thinks that Page likely would walk right in to a starting job with the Gamecocks; in light of the lack of production and/or inconsistent play from Brian Richardson and Eric Smith, Phil's prediction doesn't surprise me one bit (in fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see either Richardson or Smith decamp USC by the end of next season for more playing time).
LaShay's commitment will give us time to groom incoming frosh G Tarik Phillip and will be some insurance in case Phillip doesn't qualify; in my mind, LaShay's presence should also relieve Damien Leonard of some of the mental monkey-on-his-back thinking that he had to carry the team in backcourt scoring (plus I have this sinking suspicion that Coach Martin isn't going to give Leonard the same minutes that Coach Horn did for the same output). In any event, the competition will be good for Damien - though by the numbers, it's a no-contest between Page and Leonard in terms of experience and scoring ability. If you watch this video of his reaction to the Golden Eagles getting their first NCAA Tourney bid in 20 years, you'll also get a sense of Page's maturity and leadership presence (you do have to wait for a BP commercial to run, but it's worth it).
I personally believe that Brenton Williams was a pleasant surprise last year, especially as the season progressed, and with Williams' speed and perimeter shooting ability combined with Page's clear superiority at the two position, I wouldn't be shocked if Coach Martin didn't move Brenton to PG- at least while Ellington was still on the gridiron - and pair him with Page as the starting guard tandem.
In terms of numbers, the transfers of Anthony Gill and Tre Harris, plus Ellington's decision to stick with football (and thus the operation of the so-called Bear Bryant Rule which means his headcount scholarship must count against the football team's 85 grant-in-aid limit) leaves the hoops team with just seven scholarship players - Carlton Geathers, Lakeem Jackson, Damien Leonard, Brian Richardson, RJ Slawson, Eric Smith and Brenton Williams - and Page will make eight. With Frank Martin having shown his mettle by bringing in Thaddeus Hall (6'5" G), Mindaugas Kacinas (6'7" PF), Laimonas Chatkevicius (6'10" C) and Tarik Phillip (6'2" PG) in that spectacular thirty-six hour haul back in April, that brings us to twelve scholarships. Page's commitment leaves room for the thirteenth final scholly to go to 7'1"Jordan Dickerson of Alexandria, Virginia (though he may be favoring Auburn or Providence ahead of the Cocks).
Congratulations to Coach Martin for landing a solid player, and to LaShay Page for getting the opportunity to come home.