Over the next several days, I will be writing three pieces looking back at our senior class. Each of these pieces will take a look at the three seniors that took the court for the South Carolina Gamecocks this basketball season. I can't think of a better place to start than with Michael Carrera.
When Michael Carrera committed to play basketball for the South Carolina Gamecocks, he was a mostly unknown commodity. A player that had garnered some interest from schools like Virginia Tech, George Mason, Gonzaga, and Richmond but only received one scholarship offer. The 6'5, 210 pound small forward from Barcelona, Venezuela was not only unknown, but also unwanted. He was deemed too small to play significant minutes in the post and didn't possess the outside jumper and ball-handling skills to play the wing.
To fully understand the context of Carrera's career here at South Carolina, we need to have a brief history lesson. Shortly before Carrera's commitment and subsequent arrival on campus, Frank Martin had just inherited the keys to a moribund basketball program that had gone completely off the rails under Darrin Horn. To make matters worse, the programs two best underclassmen at the time, Damontre Harris and Anthony Gill, decided they didn't want to be here anymore. The short term situation, while Frank Martin certainly brought an instant ray of hope for the long-term, looked dire. We went from wondering if we could compete in Martin's first season to worrying about even fielding a full roster. The circumstances were bleak, at best.
Enter Michael Carrera. As stated above he was not a highly regarded commodity. In fact, most people thought he would just be a nice role player in his time here as a Gamecock and was certainly not seen as a program changer. The first three years of his career at Carolina, while not necessarily exceeding expectations, had some nice moments and met his perceived ceiling. Michael made the All-SEC Freshman team in his inaugural year, and gave us some nice moments like this one in his next couple of seasons. However, Michael struggled with a slight position change early in his sophomore year and that seemed to slow his development a bit. While he averaged about 21 minutes a game his first three seasons, Carrera was a sixth man and the occasional spot starter by his sophomore and junior year. His PPG dropped from almost 10 a game to around 7 or 8 the next two seasons. We knew that Carrera was a hard worker and played the game with, sometimes out of control, enthusiasm. What we didn't know, was that Carrera was primed for an explosion in his senior year.
In Michael's senior season he was the unquestioned leader of this team. He made more 3 pointers this year than he made in his first 3 seasons combined. He found a way to increase his rebounding output while doubling his PPG from his junior to senior year and averaged nearly 30 minutes a game. But my appreciation for Michael is not purely based in his production on the court. It's how he produced and how it changed the basketball culture at the University of South Carolina. Michael's first home game as a Gamecock was a win in OT against the Milwaukee Panther's in front of roughly 2,500-3,000 people in 18,000 capacity Colonial Life Arena. His senior year the team won 15 games in a row to start the year, was nationally ranked 11 weeks out of the season, beat the SEC regular season champions on the road, finished number 3 in the conference, and averaged roughly 12,000 fans a game (including several sellouts/near sellouts). All of this was accomplished because of, in no small part, to Michael Carrera's work ethic, enthusiasm, and, ultimately, his production on the court.
The man that nobody thought could change a program had a huge hand in changing the culture here at South Carolina. He didn't do it by himself, but without Michael, I don't think we win 25 games this year. You helped our home court turn into something that was feared by opponents. So thank you, Michael. For everything.