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Checking in on South Carolina men’s hoops

New head coach Lamont Paris faces an uphill climb.

NCAA Basketball: Chattanooga at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina new head coach Lamont Paris may be facing an uphill this season. He has been billed as a winner who consistently makes the NCAA tournament and as a coach who could transform a program through the transfer portal. While those declarations may turn out to be true, Paris has made the tournament only once as a head coach and has gotten off to a debatable start on the recruiting trail at South Carolina. It will take time to make inroads within the South Carolina prep scene, but the portal should be an option to fill immediate needs.

The current returning players are:

G - Jacobi Wright

G - Chico Carter

F - Ja’Von Benson

C - Josh Gray

C - Tre’Vaughn Minott

Forward Daniel Hawkins-Sanford and guard Zachary Davis honored their commitments to South Carolina - after previously signing to play for Frank Martin - and will give Paris two talented freshmen to add in the mix.

In the past few weeks, Paris has hit the recruiting trail hard. He missed on a few high profile targets, but did bring in some solid players that are worthy of SEC caliber basketball. However, they are probably suited more for complementary/reserve roles as opposed to SEC caliber starters.

Hayden Brown - 6’5” senior forward transfer from The Citadel. He isn’t overly athletic, but gets the most out of his abilities. At The Citadel, Brown was slotted at the power forward and center positions. He doesn’t have the size or skill to consistently hold up at center, in the SEC, and instead will be utilized at small forward and power forward when needed. Last season, Brown averaged 18.8 PPG and 9.5 RPG while playing in the Southern Conference.

Ebrima Dibba - 6’6” Senior guard transfer from Coastal Carolina. He’s tall, athletic, and can be a disrupter on the defensive end. He does nearly everything well, but does not yet excel at anything in particular. Paris places a premium on versatility and Dibba fits that description. Last season, Dibba averaged 8.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 5.4 APG while playing in the Sun Belt Conference.

Meechie Johnson Jr. - 6’2” sophomore guard transfer from Ohio State. Johnson is a former highly ranked prep star who has yet to live up to that billing. He sustained a few injuries and was stashed behind a deep backcourt at Ohio State. Johnson is looking for a fresh start and will have every opportunity to grow into his potential in the coming years. Last season Johnson averaged 4.4 PPG, 1.5 RPG, and 1.2 APG while playing in the Big Ten Conference.

Despite a 5th place finish in the SEC standings, a strong incoming 2022 class, and a reportedly silent commitment from GG Jackson, missing the post season for another year was enough for the administration to make a coaching change. Unfortunately for Lamont Paris, he’s facing some of the same challenges his predecessor faced on the recruiting trail. He’ll need to find a way to successfully pitch the men’s basketball brand to high school and AAU coaches. Far too long has the best basketball talent been pushed out of state and it took Frank Martin nearly ten years to finally break down that wall. Paris won’t be given the same amount of time to find a solution.

Another challenge Paris faces is the state of the facilities. Both the men and women share the facilities at Carolina and while they are top of the line, comparatively, to other women’s programs, the men are sorely lagging behind most of their SEC peers. It’s not a surprise that Paris has been able to land solid mid-major prospects, but landing higher tiered talent may present a challenge. Paris could point to landing Meechie Johnson to debunk that argument, but Johnson has yet to prove his worth in his short collegiate career.

Paris has three more scholarships to offer. He’ll need to land some star power in order to have a team that’s competitive in the SEC. So far, Paris seems to be taking the approach of focusing on the prep scene for the coming years, bringing in young transfer talent if he feels it’s the right fit, and using the rest of the scholarships on one year stop gap seniors that will provide locker room leadership, while not tying up future scholarships.