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October 15, 2009

Horn, players excited about new season

The word was said and repeated by the three individuals several times each.

"Excitement," or some version of it.

"It's the best time of the year," South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. "Everything's hopeful and I think everybody's eager to get excited. It's amazing that it's come this fast. We're inside of a month from playing a regular-season game."

The Gamecocks officially began practice for the 2009-10 season on Thursday. It's expected to be a year of terrific accomplishments.

USC has plenty of reasons to expect that. Two "special" players, forward Dominique Archie and two-time first-team All-SEC guard Devan Downey, passed up an early entry to the NBA for their final years of college. The Gamecocks return four starters from a 21-10 team that tied Tennessee for the SEC East championship. Horn added four new faces that can contribute this year and a fifth, swingman Malik Cooke, who transferred from Nevada and can be a practice player while serving his NCAA-imposed one-year sitdown.

All the Gamecocks have to do now is turn that expectation into reality.

"I think we're dealing with it pretty good," Archie said. "We're just taking it one day at a time right now. During the offseason, a lot of people made a lot of improvements, a lot of strides."

The first game is Nov. 13 hosting Alabama A&M, although USC has an exhibition hosting Kentucky Wesleyan on Nov. 5. The Gamecocks have over a month to begin fine-tuning Horn's system, tinkering with different lineups and overall, see what kind of hand they've been dealt.

It should be a strong one, even before the draw. Archie and Downey anchor the lineup from above and below, with Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow back in the post. Zam Fredrick's empty spot could be helmed by guard Brandis Raley-Ross or freshman Lakeem Jackson, with another freshman, Ramon Galloway, ready to learn the point-guard spot behind and beside Downey.

It's all experimentation right now, but "excitement" kept popping in the players' and Horn's comments. After just missing an NCAA tournament berth last season, the Gamecocks have made it a primary goal for this year.

"Oh yeah," said Downey, who said the year would be a disappointment if USC didn't reach that plateau. "Everybody's excited. The football team's doing good so that's only going to help us keep the excitement."

"I don't think anybody goes into a season setting limitations," Archie added. "Everybody wants to shoot for the stars."

Horn couldn't get the smile off his face, saying it was the best time of the year and how thrilled he was to coach this team. While he recognized how difficult it may be -- the SEC is expected to be the most star-studded it's been in several years -- the Gamecocks have a chance to be a team that's looking down, not up at the rest of the league.

"We're excited about a lot of things," Horn said. "From the reports that have been given to me, we're anywhere from fourth to fifth in our own division, but you run into somebody on the street in Columbia, it's going to be the best team ever.

"I think for this team, it's going to be really important not to get caught up in either of those or focus on either one. Just to really go out and be the best team we can be every year."

NOTES: Cooke practiced. He can't play this year due to NCAA regulations but can help out as a practice player. ... Shane Phillips, who was a practice player last season, is no longer with the team. ... Senior guard Robert Wilder sat out with a boot on his right foot. The injury is not expected to be serious. ... Former USC coach Eddie Fogler also attended practice.



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