The Instagram video is definitely worth a couple of looks. South Pointe senior Tyreece Brice takes a few hard dribbles, lifts off and puts a basketball between his legs before rattling the rim with a one-handed slam.
Brice couldn’t pull off that maneuver before an injury, essentially a sprained foot, that cost him much of last season. But all of that frustration was flushed away by the dunk Brice pulled off this past summer.
“I was like, ‘well, I guess I’m 100 percent now,’” he recalls. “That got my confidence a lot better.”
The short video clip suggests that the senior point guard is back, and better than he’s ever been. That’s great news for a South Pointe squad that starts the season Friday ranked No. 2 in the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Association’s statewide preseason rankings.
“That’s all great, but it’s preseason,” said South Pointe coach Melvin Watson. “I’d rather be No. 1 at the end of the year.”
To do that, the Stallions need Brice. With The Herald’s 2012-13 All-Area Player of the Year, Anthony Johnson, back for a senior year, high-flyer Mustafia Love on the other wing after transferring from Northwestern, and Zeek Rodney working the paint inside, Watson’s team needs a floor general like Brice to keep everything organized, and everyone supplied with the basketball.
“He’s pretty good at running plays, pushing the ball,” said Johnson, who averaged 18 points and nine rebounds last season. “Even though we’re a fastbreak team, he’s able to set up plays and get everybody going.”
Brice was averaging 15-16 points per game until a practice last January when he rolled his ankle over. He missed seven region games and though he returned late in the season for the Stallions’ playoff run, he wasn’t full tilt. An ankle injury can be a ball and chain, an ailment that never goes away if not properly confronted, and it’s especially frustrating for a college prospect able to fly off the deck, like Brice.
“It’s a nagging injury,” he said. “Now that it’s getting cold, it’s stiff a lot more, and it takes a lot longer to warm up, but that comes with the territory.”
Icing, stretching, calf raises – all of those things combined to make Brice’s lower half stronger than it’s previously been. Brice said he didn’t fully get his ankle right until this past summer, during AAU ball with the Upward Stars. He came off the bench for a Stars squad loaded with Division I talent and didn’t get as much playing time as he would’ve liked, but that only increased his desire and readiness for school hoops.
“I missed it a lot and I’m glad we’re about to start Friday,” Brice said.
South Pointe opens the season Friday at home against Gaffney and its Georgetown recruit, L.J. Peak. It will be a staunch early exam for a Stallions team still finding its bearings and folding football players back into the mixture.
“We’re very excited,” said Brice. “When we play tough opponents like that it makes us step our game up and it helps us find out what we want to be as a team, and where we are right now.”
South Pointe lost savvy, athletic veterans P.J. Heath, Devin Pearson and Tay Blake, guys who Watson had coached since junior-varsity. This year, the Stallions are filling those roles with considerably younger players. The team’s modus operandi remains the same though.
“We definitely look to run,” Brice said. “That’s our team motto and that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Watson said his senior point guard obviously facilitates the offense, but also is an effective outside shooter. Brice’s injury also forced him to park on the sidelines next to the coaching staff during last season’s region action, giving him a different view of the game. Brice’s shooting ability and penetrating should help the Stallions deal with the many zone defenses they’re likely to see this season.
“He understands what we’re trying to do in our zone offense,” said Watson. “The outside shooting is a plus.”
During practice in the school’s cramped B gym, Watson calls all of his players by nicknames. “Mu,” “Lit Man,” and “Zay Zay” were some of the monikers bandied about on Tuesday. Brice’s nickname is “Fuzz,” given to him as a child by his father.
The free use of nicknames that players are called by close friends and family suggests a close relationship between the coach and his players. That’s exactly the type of relationship shared by Brice and Watson, a former point guard at the University of South Carolina.
“He’s a mentor. He’s like a father figure to me,” said Brice. “He motivates me a lot and he’s trying to get me to where I want to be. I want to play pro ball somewhere, either overseas or here. Try to get to be the best I can get.”
Brice is receiving interest from UNC Wilmington, Gardner-Webb, Central Florida, as well as smaller schools like Lincoln Memorial and Newberry. In Watson, Brice has the ideal coach to help him reach the next phase of his career.
“We have a tough love situation,” said Watson. “When I took the position, foreseeing that he wanted to play college ball he had to play point guard. I made the transition after Manzey (Miller) graduated, to switch positions, and I’ve been really hard on him. Tyreece, being a guy that takes in everything and wants to get better every day, he’s made tremendous strides as a point guard and still has a lot of room to grow. I think his upside as a college point guard is really good.”
Brice knows a good season for the team, and personally, will help him reach that level. The Stallions won 21 of their first 22 games last season before falling by three points to eventual state champs Irmo in the third round of the Class AAAA state playoffs. That kind of campaign may have surprised Upstate onlookers last year, but there will be no such sneaking up on opponents this time around.
“It’s easier working from the bottom up, than from the top and staying at the top,” Watson said. “We’re not the same team as last year. This year’s team is senior-heavy, but we’re young. If we get in foul trouble we have to rely on younger guys.”
South Pointe’s older players can prevent those situations, Brice especially.
“We’re gonna play as a team, and wherever that leads us,” he said. “Hopefully it’s a championship.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T