South Carolina adds experience, skill to a team picked to finish last in the SEC this season

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Lamont Paris doesn't pay much attention to preseason predictions, especially those that have his South Carolina team headed for dead last in the Southeastern Conference.

“It doesn’t make that much sense to me,” he said of SEC preseason rankings that have the Gamecocks at the bottom of the 14-team league. “But hopefully for my team it will be a source of inspiration."

It certainly is to Paris. He remembers his first season at Chattanooga when his program was picked last in the Southern Conference. Five years later, the Mocs were the league favorite.

Last season, the Gamecocks were short on experience and technique. That's not the case this season, Paris said.

“We’re significantly more skilled, significantly more experienced, and we didn’t finish last last year,” said Paris, noting his team was 12th.

A season ago was admittedly a struggle for Paris in his first year at South Carolina. He had to fashion a roster of transfers and newcomers in taking over for Frank Martin, who spent 10 years with the program before getting dismissed after the 2021-22 season. But he has several returning players who lived through last year's 11-win season and feel ready to make strides forward.

Meechie Johnson, an Ohio State transfer a year ago, said the team has connected this offseason and are ready to show they can compete in the SEC. Johnson said he and his teammates want to make a mark this season.

Not that Johnson or any other individual reached personal milestones, but that they were “on that Sweet 16 team that made a run,” he said. “That is what I am here for. I am excited for that and I just can't wait.”

EXPECTATIONS

Paris had a smile on his face when he was asked about his win-loss expectations this season.

“Lots of wins, not so many losses,” he quipped. Is that realistic? “I think so,” Paris said.

He's never put a number on what his team's can accomplish, even ones who've wound up in the NCAAs.

“I would never cap what these guys are capable of doing,” he continued. “We've got a lot of work to do, especially on the defensive end, (but) we've got a lot of guys who can put the ball in the basket.”

NEW FACES

Paris brought in several transfers this season, including 6-foot-6 guard Myles Stute who started 59 games in three seasons at Vanderbilt and Ta'Lon Cooper, a 6-4 guard who was at Minnesota last season and Morehead State for three years before that. The Gamecocks are also going back to the Southern Conference well with newcomers in B.J. Mack of Wofford and Stephen Clark of The Citadel.

HERRO BALL

Austin Herro, younger brother of Miami Heat's Tyler Herro, is a walk-on for the Gamecocks this season.

Austin Herro knows he will get some attention for his family ties, but said he will try and work as hard as he can to help South Carolina succeed. Herro is a 6-1 guard from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was rated that state's third-ranked college prospect according to ESPN.com.

A YEAR AGO

It was a long season even with NBA draft pick in Gregory Jackson on the roster. Jackson, taken by Memphis in the second round, led the Gamecocks with 15.4 points a game. But the team struggled to find a blend with so many newcomers. There were highlights (beating rival Clemson 60-58 in Paris' second game, winning at Kentucky 71-68, but was largely a struggle to finish 11-21 overall and 4-14 in the SEC.

SCHEDULE

South Carolina will play several Power Six games early on, playing Virginia Tech in Charlotte, North Carolina that first weekend before heading to face DePaul in Phoenix the next week. The Gamecocks will play Notre Dame at home and rival Clemson on the road, all within the first month. SEC play begins Jan. 6 at home against Mississippi State.

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