How Lamont Paris turned South Carolina from an afterthought to

  • Myron Medcalf, ESPN Personnel WriterFeb 23, 2024, 08:29 AM ET


    • Covers college basketball
    • Joined in 2011
    • Graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato

COLUMBIA, S.C.– Following South Carolina’s 75-60 win over Vanderbilt on Feb. 10, a large group of Gamecocks fans at Colonial Life Arena refused to budge, even as an annoyed security guard advised the group’s fans to exit the facility. Gathered along the baseline of the court, shoulder-to-shoulder near the entryway of the home team’s tunnel, they remained because they wanted an image with head coach Lamont Paris, a national coach of the year competitor, and his players, who have actually managed among the college basketball season’s most outstanding turn-arounds.

“They didn’t wait around like this after games last season,” the guard noted.A year back, South Carolina played most of its games in front of a half-empty home arena en path to an 11-21 record in Paris’ very first season as head coach. This year, the No. 20 Gamecocks, who will play at Ole Miss on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network, are legitimate contenders in the SEC race and one of the most significant surprises in males’s college basketball.Paris ‘group is 21-5

and sits third in the SEC standings, just 1.5 games behind conference leader Alabama. And now, there aren’t simply more fans in the stands for home games, they’re appearing in a specific sort of uniform: quarter-zip sweatshirts, Paris’preferred sideline attire.”The quarter zip, it’s such a flexible piece of clothes,”Paris said.Picked to complete last in the SEC in the league’s preseason survey, South Carolina reached the No. 11 spot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll recently, its greatest ranking because the 1997-98 season, following a seven-game winning streak. Its résumé consists of wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Gamecocks firmly placed in the NCAA competition field as a 7-seed in his latest Bracketology.Editor’s Picks 2 Related”I suggest, shoot, [the voters in the preseason poll] simply basically stated,’You’re the

worst players. You’re

the worst team.

You ain’t going to be good,'”stated Meechie Johnson, a junior guard who is balancing 13.8 points per game.”That’s how we took a look at it. And, undoubtedly, we simply didn’t believe like that about ourselves.”Paris didn’t think that way about his team, either. He learnt about all the moves he made in the offseason to add the ideal pieces and develop a correct culture for this year’s group. And now, everybody can see that those moves have actually changed the program’s fortunes. The addition of Wofford transfer B.J. Mack (13.8 PPG)updated South Carolina’s offending capabilities in the paint. Paris also utilized the website to get older– South Carolina had among the youngest Power 5 teams a year earlier– with veteran players who’ve helped this group go from a sub-200 ranking in defensive effectiveness in 2022-23 to a top-60 spot this season. Those improvements helped South Carolina go from a 21-loss season just a year ago to a 21-win season today.”You select my group last?”Paris said about the SEC preseason survey.”Last is what you’re going to state? Yeah? OK. Begin. Bring it. That mindset has actually moved over to a lot of our players.”This isn’t to state that whatever this season has actually gone efficiently– the team has actually lost its previous two games, one of which was a 40-point blowout at Auburn on Valentine’s Day.But Paris feels most comfy in the middle of adversity.As an 11-year-old in Findlay, Ohio, he told those

around him that he ‘d be the very first individual in his household to participate in college. Paris’moms and dads constantly taught their children to hold their heads high, even if the chances were against them– and in some cases they were. Paris said he remembers going through the

checkout line at the local supermarket and paying with food stamps. But he never felt embarrassed.”You needed to raise the tray, take out the orange cash, and everyone’s like,’ Ah, individuals with food stamps, ‘”Paris stated.”That didn’t affect us. It didn’t make us seem like we were any even worse. “After he finished in 1996 from the College of Wooster, where he was a two-time captain of the guys’s basketball group, he decided to pursue

a career in coaching– initially as an assistant at Wooster, and after that at four other schools throughout 20 years.He made simply $10,000 and slept on a bed mattress on the concrete floor of a basement

while at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. But he kept working his method into better jobs. After a seven-year stint as an assistant at Wisconsin, he finally got his first head-coaching chance in 2017 at Chattanooga, which won 10 games in his very first season.

In 2022, he led the Mocs to the NCAA tournament, getting the attention of South Carolina, which employed him to replace Frank Martin.To find the blueprint for developing a champion at South Carolina, Paris only had to walk down the hall to women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley’s office. South Carolina males’s basketball aims to restore and secure an area among the sport’s best. In ladies’s basketball, Staley– who took over an average program in 2008 and turned it into a seasonal competitor, winning the 2017 and 2022 championship games– has actually done that and more. Throughout No. 1 South Carolina’s win over UConn earlier this month, a sellout crowd, which included Paris, danced to a DJ’s playlist as the group added another success to its unblemished record.Onward. #Gamecocks// #ForeverToThee!.?.!— Gamecock Men’s Basketball( @GamecockMBB) February 19, 2024 Paris called Staley a motivation who made him feel like he belonged when she pulled him onstage throughout her team’s 2022 nationwide title parade just days after he had actually been worked with.”I believe [Paris] is a terrific coach, a fantastic X’s and O’s coach, “Staley said.”I believe he’s a fantastic culture coach. He’s got the ideal guys representing him. The sky is the limitation for this program. He simply required a chance.”Paris said the crucial to the group’s turnaround has actually been the culture within the program. Yeah, the word”culture”is a cliché among coaches, however to him, it’s real. After a recent practice, players sat on the bench and chuckled together instead of going home. That lighthearted vibe existed even before the

season started. A preseason journey to the Bahamas boosted the team’s chemistry and helped enhance the idea that this group might surpass expectations. And the excellent vibes have not simply been limited to basketball-related journeys and activities.”

We socialize with each other a lot,”stated Minnesota transfer Ta’Lon Cooper, a South Carolina native who is balancing 9.7 PPG and making 44% of his shots from 3-point range.”We go to the females’s games. We just vibe with each other. I indicate, I attempted to take a number of them roller-skating. They don’t like to roller-skate. They tried. I’ll give them that. However we’ll play games together. They’re simply great men, male.”Before his team’s match against Vanderbilt earlier this month, Paris addressed his players in the locker space and made a need.”Help as you can,”he informed his group.”Whatever you’re called upon to do. That’s what our strength is. “Paris, who keeps the two chairs he used on the sideline throughout Wisconsin’s Final 4 runs in 2014 and 2015 in his workplace in Columbia, preaches two things: the value of unity and decision. With the latter quality, this South Carolina group took its ranking in the league’s preseason poll as an insult and decided to humiliate its critics. “Why not us?”

Cooper stated.”A great deal of us came here to develop this program. A great deal of us are from here. We just wish to build this program to where, from here on out, this is what South Carolina guys’s basketball has to do with.”After a first-half lull, South Carolina outscored Vanderbilt 47-28 in the second half of that aforementioned victory. To date, it was the peak of the season.Paris attempted to shake as many hands as he might following his regional radio program after the Vanderbilt triumph. There were supporters of any ages who desired selfies. However a young boy in the front row, who raided the yellow security rope that lined the court, conveyed the optimism of a fan base that has seen the program’s rapid growth. “Coach Paris! “the boy shouted as the 49-year-old turned towards him.”You’ve changed South Carolina males’s basketball!”

But Paris resists the credit.”I didn’t score a point all season, guys, “he said.”They’re going to try to inform me that I did something here.

My players are out there doing it. Let’s not forget that.”

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