South Carolina coach Dave Odom can finally begin planning his starting and substitute rotations.
The final piece of the Gamecocks' 2007-08 team fell into place Tuesday when Mike Holmes was granted admission to USC. Holmes, a 6-foot-7 power forward who was the highest-rated freshman in Odom's banner seventh recruiting class, averaged 23 points and 13.8 rebounds last year while leading Lee Central High School to its second straight Class AA state championship.
"Many other signees might have become discouraged, but Michael never wavered nor did his family and many other supporters from Lee County," Odom said in a statement. "Michael's reward is his admission to South Carolina."
While Holmes' admission ended a long process that involved getting three transferring players into school (Devan Downey, Zam Fredrick, Branden Conrad), losing another transfer to academics (Mike Jones) and re-signing a recruit who originally committed two years ago (Austin Steed), all wasn't rosy Tuesday. Holmes got in but another incoming freshman, 6-8 wing Aaron Ellis, did not.
Ellis attended Carolina Forest High School two years ago and played last season at Bridgton (Maine) Academy. He did not clear the admission process and has probably exhausted any possibility of playing at USC.
The Gamecocks lost their top three scorers, their best rebounder and their ace 3-point shooter from last year and will have four new starters surrounding swingman Dominique Archie. Veteran Dwayne Day, who played in all of USC's 30 games but only started 13, returns as the team's only senior and reliable sophomores Brandis Raley-Ross and Evka Baniulis are also on board.
Downey, a former star at Chester High School who played at Cincinnati as a freshman, should anchor the point guard spot while Zam "Buck" Fredrick could play two-guard. The Gamecocks only have one true center, 6-10 sophomore Mitchell Carter, but have six other players 6-7 or taller who can fill the three post spots.
Holmes could be one of them. Ranked 78th among the nation's top recruits, Holmes was known for his versatility in high school. A defensive specialist, Holmes could provide an answer to a team that finished last in the SEC in rebounding last season.
"I got comfortable playing on the Colonial Center floor," Holmes said in a statement. "I've played there four years in a row and we won the state title twice."
Holmes' admission has given the Gamecocks three of the past four South Carolina Mr. Basketball award-winners. Fredrick won it in 2004 and was followed by Downey, while Holmes won it this year. USC was set to have the last four Mr. Basketballs but Jones (2006) didn't make the grade.
It's also a possibility Odom could add all-state hoopster Cliff Matthews to the roster. Matthews is on campus on a football scholarship, earned after he competed in several all-star gridiron contests last season. Although he only played half the basketball season at Cheraw High School, Matthews averaged over 20 points and 13 rebounds, losing to Holmes and Lee Central in the lower state championship.
Matthews, who played at the Carolinas All-Star Basketball Classic in Rock Hill during the spring, said then he'd been talking to Odom about the possibility of walking on once football was over this year.
USC spokesperson Michelle Schmitt confirmed Matthews and Odom had talked twice already.
"(Odom) basically told him he was welcome to come out for the team, as long as he followed two steps," Schmitt said. "One, he had to have permission and the blessing of coach (Steve) Spurrier, and two, he had to have his grades in order."