South Carolina has been in four different conferences in their history. While I therefore don’t want to hear anything from them or their fans about being newcomers to the SEC (they’ve been there for just 20 years, barely longer than the Big XII existed with Missouri in it), it should be noted that the Gamecocks have won conference titles in three of their four memberships. Let’s take a look at the other Columbia, which will reunite us with a familiar, "friendly?" face.
A Short History
The Gamecocks played only one season in the decade of the 1900s, converting from a club sport and playing just three games, all at home. Those games, as well as two others in the next two seasons, were played outdoors. The first game came in October of 1908 against the Hurricanes of Furman. After the two squads fought to a 9-9 halftime tie, Furman got a late basket to secure a 21-19 victory over South Carolina. Junior captain JC Vassey of South Carolina scored 15 of the team’s 19 points, including 9 free throws. The Gamecocks went on to lose both of their other games in their inaugural season to the Columbia YMCA and Wofford. They played only one game in their second season, losing to Davidson 29-8. They finally would tally the program’s first win in season 3, dominating the Columbia YMCA team 31-18, and finished the season 1-1 after losing their other game to Newberry.
On January 17, 1912, USC officially opened the Carolina Gymnasium for varsity games, and USC crushed the visiting Olympia YMCA in their home-opener 33-5. Their first ever road victory, and first victory over another college team, came a week later as they defeated Wofford. They enjoyed their first winning season in 1913-14 when they posted a 5-4-1 mark, going a perfect 5-0 at home and recording the only tie in school history. USC had a number of coaches in its first few years of collegiate ball, but Dixon Foster made his mark on the court going 26-31 in four seasons between 1917-1920. Foster was also the football head coach of the Gamecocks (shocking, right?)
Things picked up in Columbia during the 1920s, however. A pair of other footsketball coaches, Sol Metzger and Branch Bocock, would lead the team to a combined 40-27 over 5 seasons of basketball (while also going 39-25 on the gridiron). In 1922 they got their first taste of conference-affiliated participation by playing in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) Tournament in Atlanta. The following season, South Carolina joined the Southern. After Bocock took over the team in 1924, the Gamecocks were led to three straight winning seasons including the successful 1926-27 season that saw them achieve a record of 14-4 including a 9-1 conference record and South Carolina’s first ever Conference Championship.
The decade ended under A.W. "Rock" Norman who would coach at USC from 1928-1935, and though his career record at USC was just 57-57 he backloaded that career with the most successful back-to-back seasons still in school history in ’32-’33 and ’33-’34. Led by two of the nation’s top scorers in All-Americans Freddie Tompkins and Dana Henderson, the Gamecocks would win the first ever Conference Tournament title in 1933 besting Duke 33-21 in the final. They finished the season 17-2, winning the SoCon Conference again, and on a 15-game winning streak. The winning continued the following season as USC won its first 17 games to put the winning tally at 32 straight (including a win over Presbyterian by a score of 84-9).
And it wasn’t another team that put a stop to USC’s run, it was the mumps. An outbreak of mumps took down Henderson as well as Freddie Tompkins and his brother, Bennie, as NC State took advantage and crushed an outmanned Gamecocks team in the first round of the SoCon Tournament. With everyone healthy, though, USC defeated Pittsburgh three weeks later, a team considered to be the best in the country. USC finished the season 18-1, undefeated in the SoCon and winning the Conference Title once again. Norman’s final season in Columbia finished 15-9 (5-7). Ted Petoskey began a five-year career with USC, posting winning seasons in his first two years before succumbing to losing campaigns the next three seasons. Finishing just 5-13 to end the 1940 season, the Gamecocks looked for stability within the system after World War II took many youngsters away to fight.
Along came Frank Johnson, who broke the three-year losing skid immediately with a 15-9 record and led South Carolina for 14+ seasons, the second longest ever in school history. In terms of winning seasons, the 1940s was the best yet and stands tied with the 1980s for the 2nd most successful decade ever for the school as they managed to notch seven winning seasons. High scoring became the norm, starting early with a forward named Preston Westmoreland who would lead USC in scoring in each of his three seasons (1940, 1941 and 1942). South Carolina would also see their first ever 1,000-point scorer in the 1940s. Henry Martin, a 5’9" guard from Columbia, SC, led the Gamecocks in scoring in 1943 before the war took him away from playing. Upon his return in 1947, Martin again was among the team scoring leaders for his final three years and finished his career with over 1,000 points.
Due to the war, coaching changes were customary. After leading USC to a 2-0 mark to start the 1942 seasons, Johnson was called to war and football coach Rex Enright coached the remainder of the season. Basketball success continued at USC, however, at Lt. Henry Findley (1944) and Johnny McMillan (1945) led the Gamecocks to 13-2 and 19-3 seasons, respectively, before Johnson returned midway through the 1945-46 season. The 1945 team once again finished undefeated in the SoCon and took home the school’s fourth and final SoCon Conference Championship. USC had two more winning seasons to finish out the decade, but it was one player who surfaced in the 1940s who would make an impact, Jim Slaughter. Slaughter is considered the first true "Big Man" for USC, and he averaged 16.5 rebounds per game his Senior season in 1951 (the first year rebounds were officially kept as a stat). He was selected an All-American by the Helms Athletic Foundation in 1951 and he scored 1,521 points in his career (still fifth all-time in school history) averaging 17.3, 20.0 and 22.8 ppg over his final three seasons.
High scoring was the benchmark of USC basketball in the 1950s, more-so than winning was, ultimately. The decade that started with Jim Slaughter posting consecutive 20+ ppg averages would also see Dwane Morrison, a JUCO transfer who averaged just less than 15 ppg, Joe Smith and Lee Collins who each tallied over 1,000 points for their careers, and Grady Wallace. Wallace still stands as South Carolina’s all-time two-year scoring leader with over 1,400 points and an average of 28.0 ppg. His 23.9 ppg as a Junior wasn’t good enough to help USC to wins as they finished just 9-14 that season, but they would improve to 17-12 the next year as Wallace led the nation in scoring at 31.3 ppg. Wallace also dominated the glass as he pulled down 14.4 rebounds/game in his Senior season.
The decade finished with Ray "Cookie" Pericola, who had made his name by racking up assists to Wallace during his first two seasons, and then averaging 15.1 ppg and 12.8 ppg over his final two season to finish with over 1,000 points in his USC career. But scoring wasn’t all that was on South Carolina’s minds in the 1950’s - a new conference was. Realignment in 1953 created the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and South Carolina would be members of that league until 1971. South Carolina would narrowly miss winning the ACC Tournament in 1957 after pulling back-to-back upsets against Duke and Maryland only to lose to eventual National Champions North Carolina in the finals led by coach Frank McGuire. That name would mean far more to South Carolina fans in the very near future.
After seasons of mediocre played ended the 1950s and followed them into the early 1960s, Gamecock basketball began to flourish under new head coach Bob Stevens. Stevens turned around four-straight losing seasons to go 15-12 in 1961-62 and capture ACC Coach of the Year honors. Stevens left after that season and just two years later the man that had eliminated USC in the ACC tourney finals would become their newest head coach. It didn’t take long for Frank McGuire to get things rolling in Columbia. After improving from 6-17 in his first year to 11-13 in his second year, McGuire returned USC to its winning ways with a 16-7 record and a semifinal appearance in the ACC Tournament in 1966-67.
That 16-7 season was the beginning of an amazing streak for the Gamecocks as they would reel off a total of 15 consecutive winning seasons, not suffering a sub-.500 season again until 1981-82. Things looked primed for a spectacular end to the decade after a stellar recruiting class that included John Roche, Tom Owens and John Ribock to start the 1967-68 season. McGuire and his team did not disappoint the fans as the 1968-69 squad, led by Roche and Owens who would average 40.0 ppg between them, became the first ever at USC to win 20 games going 21-7 and making their first ever post-season tourney as they advanced to the 2nd round of the 1969 NIT. Things were certainly looking up, and would lead to USC’s best decade ever in basketball.
South Carolina wasted little time getting on track in the 1970s. In the middle of UCLA’s string of national championships, preseason polls placed the Gamecocks at the #1 slot for the 1969-70 season. Unfortunately, USC lost its home opener and was knocked out of the top slot but still showed dominance over the rugged ACC. USC would outscore their opponents by more than 17 points per game and were an uncanny 14-0 on the road, including a sweep of ACC teams en route to a perfect 14-0 record in the league. Disaster struck in the ACC Tournament, however, as Roche severely sprained his ankle in a semifinal victory and NC State pulled out a double OT win in the finals to keep the Gamecocks out of the NCAA Tournament. USC finished the season with a remarkable 25-3 record.
A year later, spurred on by the emergence of sophomore Kevin Joyce, the Gamecocks got revenge. USC finished the season with a 23-6 record and won the Holiday Festival Tournament in New York City. But it was Joyce that most remember for that season. With time running out against North Carolina in the ACC finals and USC down 51-50, a jump ball was called with the 6’3" Joyce and UNC’s 6’10" center Lee Dedmon. Amazingly, Joyce outjumped Dedmon and tipped the ball directly to Owens under the basket for a layup and a 52-51 Gamecock victory. South Carolina had won the ACC Tournament in what would be its final year as members of the ACC.
The success South Carolina achieved on the court brought resentment and anger from fellow ACC schools, especially those on "Tobacco Road", as the conference members of the state of North Carolina were known. The hostility of the road crowds, the unfriendly behavior of coaches and athletic directors in the conference, and the discrepancies in eligibility standards led McGuire to support South Carolina becoming an Independent before the 1971-72 season. While South Carolina would see success in its first few years as an Independent, the program gradually declined. They would make the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons, going 24-5 in ’72, 22-7 in ’73 and 22-5 in ’74. South Carolina would lose in the Sweet 16 in ’71, ’72 and ’73.
The University sought entrance into another athletic conference, but this proved problematic because most conferences required schools to have a single athletic director and South Carolina had multiple directors at this time. McGuire served as AD for the basketball program, and he would not relinquish his position. The University made several attempts to obtain McGuire’s resignation, but ultimately honored his contract through 1980. Though South Carolina would make no more NCAA Tournament appearances under McGuire after 1974, they would enjoy a winning season in each of his remaining seasons and would participate in the NIT in 1975 and 1978. McGuire finished with a 283-142 overall record at South Carolina and continues to be held in high regard by Gamecock fans. His six consecutive 20-win seasons from 1969-1974, which produced a 137.33 record, remain the benchmark for USC basketball. Great players also defined the decade of the 1970s, led by Roche and his three-year scoring record of 1,910 points and an incredible 56-point day vs. Furman his Senior season. Alex English came along in 1973 and set the all-time USC scoring mark with 1,972 points in four seasons while teammate Mike Dunleavy scored 1,586 points, also from 1973-76. Six other players from this decade would score 1,300 points or more in their USC careers.
McGuire was succeeded by Bill Foster, who had made himself well known by a national championship appearance with Duke in the 1978 season. Foster didn’t take long to learn the name of Zam Fredrick as Fredrick lead the nation in scoring with 28.9 ppg in 1980-81 as USC finished with a 17-10 mark. After suffering their first losing season since 1966 in 1981-82, the Gamecocks rebounded in ’82-’83 going 22-9 and advancing to the quarterfinals of the NIT. In 1983, the University became affiliated with the Metro Conference. The basketball program was placed on probation by the NCAA in the spring of 1987 for two years because of recruiting violations and the sale of complimentary player tickets. From 1987-1991, George Felton led the Gamecocks to an 87-62 overall record which included a 1989 NCAA Tournament appearance and a 1991 NIT berth. For three of Felton’s five seasons (1987-89), Tubby Smith served as an assistant coach before leaving to join Rick Pitino’s staff at Kentucky. South Carolina joined the SEC before the 1992 season and initially struggled, posting a 20-35 record in 1992 and 1993.
Eddie Fogler was hired away from Vanderbilt before the 1994 season and within a few years returned the Gamecocks to respectability. Under Fogler, South Carolina posted an impressive 66-28 (34-14) record during the 1996-98 stretch, which included the school’s first SEC Championship in 1997. The 1997 Gamecocks posted a 15-1 record in SEC play and defeated league rival Kentucky twice, but lost in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament to 15-seed Coppin State (who loses to a 15-seed, honestly? Oh, right.) Fogler stepped down after the 2001 campaign, going 123-117 in eight seasons as the Gamecocks’ head coach. His tenure included two NCAA Tournament appearances (1997 and 1998) and two NIT appearances (1996, 2001). Fogler retired as one of the most successful head coaches in SEC Basketball history, having won regular season conference championships at both Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Subsequent coach Dave Odom posted four 20-win seasons during his time at South Carolina. He led the Gamecocks to an appearance in the 2004 NCAA Tournament and consecutive NIT Championships in 2005 and 2006. Following the 2008 campaign, Odom resigned with a 128-104 overall record at USC.
On April 1, 2008, Darrin Horn was named the new head basketball coach at USC. In his first season, Horn led the Gamecocks to a 21-10 record (10-6 in SEC play), two victories over Kentucky, and a share of the 2009 SEC Eastern Division title. After a 10-21 campaign in 2011-12, his third straight losing season, Horn was fired on March 13, 2012, finishing his career at South Carolina with a 60-63 overall record (23-45 in SEC). On March 27, 2012, South Carolina introduced their new head coach, formerly of Kansas State University, Frank Martin. Martin, as we all well know, was very successful at KSU going 117-54 overall (50-32 in Big XII play) and leading KSU to the NCAA Tournament in 4 of his 5 seasons there. He also is very scary.
South Carolina returns a slew of young players, including 2nd-leading scorer Bruce Ellington who averaged 10.6 ppg as a sophomore last season along with 3.0 apg. Ellington also plays football, however, so he will not be available until Steve Spurrier says so. The only player they lost to graduation was leading scorer Malik Cooke. South Carolina has no commits yet for the 2013 class, and the status of their 2012 class is a bit of an unknown as they have one player signed (Shaq Roland, a 6’1" SG from Lexington, SC, that is not rated in the Rivals.com database) but 4 other committed players remain unsigned. Three of these players are 3-star players in C Laimonas Chatkevicius of South Kent, CT, SF Thaddeus Hall of Brooklyn, NY, and PF Mindaugas Kacinas of Wichita, ks, with the other being PG Tarik Phillip of Charlotte, NC, who is unranked.
Best Of The Best
BJ McKie is South Carolina’s all-time leading scorer with 2,119 points from 1996-99, while Grady Wallace still holds the single-season mark with 906 points in 1957. Lee Collins owns the career rebounding record with 1,159 from 1953-56, and also owns the single-season record with 434 in 1955. Melvin Watson tops the assists list with 543 in his career from 1995-98, while Gerald Peacock holds the single-season record with 182 in 1983. Devan Downey is on top with a career record of 277 steals from 2007-10 and also holds the single-season mark at 103 in 2008. Sam Muldrow leads the Gamecocks all-time in blocked shots with 275 from 2007-11, and for some reason they don’t show single-season leaders in blocked shot. Rejected!
Two former Gamecocks are members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: Coach Frank McGuire and player Alex English. South Carolina has had its share of NBA players as well, including Renaldo Balkman, Tom Boswell, Mike Brittain, Terry Dozier, Mike Dunleavy, Alex English, Jo Jo English, Jim Fox, Gary Gregor, Skip Harlicka, Cedrick Hordges, Kevin Joyce, Tarence Kinsey, Tom Owens, Brent Price, Carlos Powell, Tom Riker, John Roche, Ryan Stack, Jack Thompson, Jim Slaughter, Jamie Watson and Brian Winters.
The Gamecocks play their home games at Colonial Life Arena, a mutli-purpose arena opened in 2002 that seats 18,000. It is the largest arena in the state of South Carolina and the tenth largest college arena. The student section has been nicknamed "The Garnet Army" which started with the arrival of head coach Darrin Horn in the 2008-09 season. The venue was built to host future NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament games. However, shortly before construction began, the NCAA barred venues in South Carolina and Mississippi from hosting such events due to protests from the NAACP. The NAACP and several other groups objected to the state hosting any NCAA-sanctioned tournament games due to the presence of a Confederate battle flag flying near a soldiers’ memorial on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds.