Lamont Paris looking to mold South Carolina into another SEC contender and NCAA Tournament team

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The best part of South Carolina men’s basketball coach Lamont Paris’ rise from forgotten in the SEC to the school’s first NCAA berth in seven years was the tight bond built among players with little or no connections.

Paris hopes to forge a similarly tight-knit team since his Gamecocks, one of the biggest positive surprises last season, will be vastly different than the one that knocked off Kentucky and Tennessee and finished with a school-record 26 wins.

“I don’t think there’s any secret, that I thought it was one of the best qualities that we had,” Paris said of the chemistry and good feelings that fueled the Gamecocks, who went 11-21 in Paris’ first season in 2022-23.

“We played well together. Guy enjoyed playing with each other and played for one another,” Paris said.

This offseason could be as challenging as the last with South Carolina losing four players, including leading scorer Meechie Johnson, who combined to make 116 starts.

Johnson, who averaged 14.1 points a game last season, was the only one with eligibility left and surprised many when he returned to Ohio State, where he played before coming to South Carolina in Paris’ first season.

Also gone are talented transfers Ta’Lon Cooper, B.J. Mack and Stephen Clark, Cooper averaged 33 minutes a game while Mack nearly 25.

Paris credited last summer’s exhibition trip to the Bahamas for the early cohesion as the Gamecocks, picked last in the SEC, opened 13-1 with the lone loss to Clemson.

The bonding must come on campus and, in fact, has already started with informal workouts with a lot of free-flowing offense for first-year players such as Alabama transfer Kam Pringle, Missouri 7-foot transfer Jordan Butler and freshman Cam Scott, who was committed to Texas before switching to South Carolina.

“What might help is that we do have more guys coming back,” Paris said. “From a standpoint of terminology and culture and traditions and customs and things that we want to do, we have more of that.”

Those returnees are led by 6-7 sophomore Collin Murray-Boyles, who was selected to the all-SEC freshman team after averaging 10.4 points and nearly six rebounds a game. He also led the Gamecocks with 28 blocks and was dominant (14 of 17 shooting) with 31 points in a win over Vanderbilt.

Murray-Boyles is already on the NBA’s watch list for next June’s draft should he decide to leave.

“I still believe his ceiling is incredibly high and I still believe he’s not close to it,” Paris said.

Others players who are back including forward Myles Stute, who played his first three years for Vanderbilt and sophomore Austin Herro, the brother of the Miami Heat’s Tyler Herro who was put on scholarship this season.

“Those guys still have heard what we’re saying and, hopefully, those help expedite the process of getting comfortable and playing with one another and developing chemistry,” Paris said.

It was difficult to say what expectations were a year ago for this program, which had lost leading scorer and current Memphis Grizzlies standout Gregory “G.G.” Jackson to the NBA draft after his freshman season.

Paris knows after the surprise showing last season that fans are hungry for more. That was upped even more by Paris himself when he turned down other opportunities and signed a six-year contract extension worth $26 million through the 2029-30 season.

Paris will make $3.75 million this season, up from the $2.3 million of a year ago.

Paris brought in assistant Will Bailey from Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday to complete his coaching staff. Bailey had worked with the Gamecocks under former coach Frank Martin in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

Paris has worked to keep those outside predictions on the outside — for now.

“It’s a little bit premature in my plan to do that,” Paris said. “We’re just trying to get to know each other.”


Get poll alerts and updates on the AP Top 25 throughout the season. Sign up here. AP college basketball: and

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up