We’re a couple of days into the NCAA’s early signing period for basketball, and while it’s a small incoming class on the books for Frank Martin and the South Carolina Gamecocks, it’s an important one. The team will lose its primary force up front and its point guard at the end of the season - for a Martin-coached team, and for just about any team, those are two of the bigger needs on the roster.
One thing to note: don’t expect the second coming of Sindarius Thornwell on this list. But Martin’s shown the ability to take under-the-radar players and mold them into cornerstones of the program. Does that mean another trip to the Final Four? Maybe not. Does that mean remaining competitive in the SEC and becoming a consistent presence in the NCAA Tournament? That’s a more realistic expectation.
Wildens Leveque (Gould Academy, Maine) hopes to be the latest in a succession of big men that have developed under Martin’s system. The 6-foot-10, 230-pounder was wooed by several Northeastern schools before deciding to make the trek south to Columbia.
“He’s developed a shot-blocking, rim-protecting presence,” his high school coach, Cory McClure, told The State in September. “Has really good timing there. His defensive instincts have improved tremendously in the last 18 months.”
That has the sounds of a player who still has room to grow, especially since he hasn’t been playing the game all that long. But he did enough to catch the eye of Martin during a recruiting visit this past spring.
“When I left the game, I was like, ‘Who is that?’,” Martin said. “We stayed on him, there was a relationship there with the folks from the Mass Rivals and in Massachusetts. We just worked.”
And with Chris Silva in his senior season, getting better up front was always a priority.
“He’s a worker, has great hands and an instinct to block shots,” Martin said. “Getting athleticism with size was important to us.”
While Leveque will be a long from home, the other signee for the Gamecocks during the early period is a simple 75-minute drive down I-20 and U.S. 15.
In-state guard Trae Hannibal (Hartsville) is the higher rated of the two, ranking just outside the top 200 nationally but well inside the top 10 in the state, according to 247Sports.
While he did mention that Hannibal would need to add a little more size to his frame, Martin’s reviews of the 6-foot-2, 204-pounder were glowing - and it’s clear that he’s excited for the program’s point guard of the future.
“I was starting to think my eyes were deceiving me because I think he’s really good,” he said. “He’s tough as nails. He has hands the size of a catcher’s mitt. He passes the ball, he plays down hill and the guys who have seen him, he has freakish athleticism but plays with pace.”
Hannibal’s a fill-the-statsheet kind of player: as a junior, he averaged 16.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.4 steals per game for the Red Foxes. With that kind of impact on both sides of the court, Martin could have a star on his hands.
While these may be the only two signings during the early period, there’s still one scholarship remaining for the Gamecocks. They have a pair of point guard offers out to Thomasi Gilegus-Alexander and Giovanni Santiago, but expect Martin to end his pursuit with Hannibal now in the fold and T.J. Moss and Jair Bolden already on the roster. A name to watch, then, would be small forward Gerald Drumgoole, who took an official visit to South Carolina in September ($) and would probably be the best bet for a final addition to the class at this point in time.