College basketball has returned to Columbia in style.
Though both the men’s and women’s seasons don’t start until November, Friday marked a celebratory day for South Carolina basketball. It started with news of a seven-year contract for women’s coach Dawn Staley that makes her the highest-paid coach in the SEC. And the day ended with a joint “Madness on Main” event, where both the Gamecock women and men put on a show for fans in downtown Columbia.
The Gamecock men and women stepped foot on a makeshift basketball court, set up at the intersection of Washington Street and Main Street. Encircled by USC fans and curious passerby, the USC players took turns competing in various games and challenges, like musical chairs, cup stacking, a 3-point contest and a joint game of knockout.
“Here’s my message, and it has to do with Colonial Life Arena,” Staley told the crowd gathered at the event. “We lost one game last year, and it was a close game, and I know if all of you were there, we’d still be undefeated. So I’m looking forward to getting back and to have an undefeated season at home.”
Staley and the Gamecocks are coming off a 26-5 season that ended with a one-point loss to Stanford in the Final Four, and they are a clear favorite to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Frank Martin’s Gamecocks, meanwhile, sport nine new faces on a team that was hampered by COVID-19 shutdowns a year ago. Martin has expressed optimism throughout the offseason that the physicality and competitiveness missing from last year’s group has returned in full force, and he expressed that to the Gamecock fans gathered on Main Street.
“Not playing in front of you guys hurt us last year, and I can’t wait to get out there again,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, so that everyone knows, we’re back.