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South Carolina men's basketball 2015-16 player preview: Laimonas Chatkevicius

The 2015-16 South Carolina men's basketball season kicks-off this week so we're starting our player previews. We started with Mindaugas Kacinas and up next, his Lithuanian mate: Laimonas Chatkevicius.

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

#14 Laimonas Chatkevicius

Senior

6-11 / 245

Klaipeda, Lithuania

College Career

Of Frank Martin's first senior class, maybe no player has improved as much from their freshman season to now like Chatkevicius. He began his college career as a slim center thrown into the fire of competing in the physical post of the Southeastern Conference. Now, he's one of the Gamecocks most important players.

Over the last two seasons, when South Carolina has played well, it usually means Chatkevicius played well. He entered last season in the best shape of his career after skipping a summer back home to work with the strength and conditioning staff almost daily in Columbia. His minutes per game jumped by 10 a game and he started a vast majority of the games his junior season after starting just one during his sophomore campaign.

Chatkevicius saw his scoring average nearly double from his sophomore season to his junior year. He scored in double-figures a career-high 13 times last season, including a pair of 18-point outings in late February against Alabama and Mississippi State. Earlier in the year an 11-point outing against Akron began a string of six games where the big man scored in double-figures.

While his offensive game improved dramatically last season, the Lithuanian has continued to make his presence known on defense. The South Carolina defense hopes to pit out of control drivers against the Gamecock rim protector as USC wing players funnel the ball handler to the paint. Often, Chatkevicius is the one there to protect the basket. He led the team in blocks 19 times last season and his 1.3 blocks per game average was good enough for eighth in the SEC last season.

2015-16 Outlook

After a full summer working with the coaching staff, Chatkevicius entered last season slimmer, but stronger, faster and to Frank Martin's delight, meaner and tougher. Chat has yet another summer under his belt as he enters his final season with the Gamecocks.

The freshly tatted big man should expect to play the same amount of minutes as last season (22.8) despite being another year older. South Carolina features even more depth in the post, something that should keep the big man fresh throughout the season. While his minutes should remain the same, his 8.6 scoring output and 5.2 rebounding averages should increase because we've seen Chatkevicius raise the bar in each of his previous seasons.

Chatkevicius presents size and a skill level that can create a tremendous impact on this basketball team. Offensively, he's improving and should be even more comfortable this season being an option on that side of the floor. Defensively is where he can create the largest difference though. He's often been the best rim protector on the team during his tenure and he'll need to remain that cornerstone if the defense is to become of the SEC's best.

He is one of four returning starters and was one of the team's top-three rebounders a year ago. As he has continued to get his body in better shape, he's become a more productive player. The Gamecocks backcourt seems ready to carry most of the load but questions will always surface about how many wins this team can get in the paint. Chatkevicius has high expectations from the coaching staff, and he'll need to fulfill them if the Gamecocks are to make some noise.