Wildens Leveque didn’t know much about his new teammate when Tre-Vaughn Minott stepped on campus for the first time last January.
All he knew were the major plot points of Minott’s unorthodox journey: raised in Montreal, played prep basketball at NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico and joined Frank Martin’s South Carolina team as a true freshman in the middle of last season.
Minott arrived in Columbia somewhat abruptly and mysteriously, but Leveque knew Minott would become a quick friend when one day during practice the two big men had a conversation speaking in Haitian Creole.
“Tre-Vaughn, he’s a funny dude. That’s my guy,” said Leveque, whose parents were both born in Haiti. “We like to hang out. His father’s Haitian, so he’s got a little bit of Haitian blood in him. He speaks French, and I’d speak Haitian Creole with him and he’d understand what I was saying, so it was pretty cool having those moments together.”
As it would turn out, French is one of several languages Minott can speak, along with Spanish, Portuguese and English. He also has an aptitude for music. Since taking piano lessons as a child, he’s learned to play six other instruments, mostly by ear: drums, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, trumpet, tenor saxophone and clarinet. Sometimes in his down time, Minott plugs his keyboard into his computer and records his own beats.
Oh, and he’s nearly 7 feet tall.
Basketball wasn’t Minott’s first love, but since he hit a teenage growth spurt, he has learned the sport like he learned the tenor saxophone and clarinet. Along with Leveque, Minott is a key frontcourt holdover on a revamped Gamecocks team that features nine new players. Both players made starts at center last season and showed flashes of the kind of players they can be, and both have pushed each other this offseason to become better versions of themselves.
Leveque has gained nearly 30 pounds in an effort to shore up his 6-foot-10 frame and establish a more physical presence in the post, while Minott has reshaped his body in the opposite direction, looking noticeably slimmer and more toned after weighing in at 280 pounds last season. That duo is competing with an intriguing group of newcomers in 7-foot LSU transfer Josh Gray, George Mason senior transfer A.J. Wilson and 6-8 freshman Ta’Quan Woodley.
“We’re big,” said Martin, laughing, while talking about his frontcourt. “We’re big up there.
“Wildens is as strong as an ox right now. Wildens in high school just shot jump shots, and he’s had to learn — a lot like Chris Silva. ... Tre-Vaughn has changed his body. What I share with him all the time is you worked really hard to make yourself a Division I athlete, now trust it and go play like it, just be more explosive, which he is. He runs better. He’s in a much better place with the physicality of the game because he’s really intelligent and skilled on how to get his shot off in the paint.”
Post play was one of a handful of glaring weaknesses on a 6-15 Gamecocks team last season. It didn’t help that the Gamecocks lost veteran forward Alanzo Frink for the season with a medical issue just three games into the year. Thrust into the starting lineup as a sophomore, Leveque was outmatched early on in conference play but drew praise from Martin in how he closed out the season, playing with more confidence and authority.
Minott, meanwhile, was gradually eased into action after living a sedentary lifestyle in Montreal for months due to COVID-19 quarantine. Minott was clearly not in basketball shape last year, averaging nine minutes in his eight games as he struggled to run the floor. But when he did play, he showed a natural scoring ability near the rim — so much so that Martin started him for three games despite him joining the team midseason with no college experience.
In his first career start at Georgia — a USC win — Minott scored six of the team’s first 12 points. Martin quipped after the game that it was the first time all season the Gamecocks passed a ball in the paint and actually scored.
“It felt good, honestly,” Minott said. “Of course, the conditioning I wasn’t up to par with. But I think as time went by, I started getting used to it, started to adapt a little bit and adjust, and that was just a great feeling, like the Georgia game, I started. That was a great feeling to be able to boost the momentum with that start.”
This offseason, with the Canadian border closed due to COVID-19, Minott was unable to go home to Montreal, but he said he viewed staying in Columbia as a blessing, an opportunity to reshape his body and get to know his teammates better. Though listed at 6-9 and 270 pounds, Minott looks significantly leaner than he did a year ago and showed some on-the-court explosiveness in Tuesday’s practice that was open to media.
Other than the extreme summer heat, Minott said he has adjusted to life in Columbia and believes the Gamecocks are building something “special” within the program. Leveque echoed that sentiment, saying he never thought of transferring despite losing much of last year’s team to the portal.
“I’ve really put my trust into this program,” Leveque said. “And Frank is a really good coach. It’s more than just basketball. He really teaches you to grow up and how to be a man. And I took on that challenge freshman year, and I’ve been committed ever since.”