Jermaine Couisnard approached Maik Kotsar last week giddy about playing in the upcoming South Carolina Pro-Am, a summer showcase put on by former South Carolina point guard (1992-95) and current City of Columbia recreation superintendent Carey Rich.
“He said to me before the first game how he hadn’t actually played in a normal game where there are refs around for more than a year,” Kotsar, the South Carolina senior, said.
“I feel like that got him really hungry.”
Oh, it did.
Couisnard, the South Carolina redshirt freshman guard who sat out last season because of an eligibility issue, was arguably the top performer at the eighth-annual Pro-Am. He averaged 39.3 points on more than 50 percent shooting on a team that went 4-0 and took home the title.
The 6-4, 211-pounder came out with a vengeance on Sunday with 40 points, then topped that performance Tuesday with 47 points (on 18-of-24 shooting), nine assists and six rebounds. He had 31 points on 12-of-21 shooting and seven assists on Thursday.
He sat on Sunday’s championship game with a right ankle injury.
“It really felt good to just get out and compete,” Couisnard said. “I really just wanted to play my game, do what I do and get my teammates involved.”
“A lot of people are going to look at his points … ,” Rich said. “I’m not going to do that because of the defense, or lack thereof. … But what I did see was a skill set that translates directly to how [South Carolina head coach] Frank [Martin] and those guys want to play.
“He’s a big scoring guard who’s also multi-dimensional. Because he knows how to pass it. But, more importantly, he knows how to make basketball plays coming off of ball screens. … With his size, with his ability to score, with his ability to shoot it and he’s equally a good passer, he’s a guy that will translate very quickly for South Carolina.
“I can tell you Frank is really, really excited about that young man. He was excited last year. He’s even more excited this year.”
The tournament organizer didn’t learn Couisnard, one of the week’s breakout stars, wasn’t going to play in the championship game until Sunday when the latter walked into the gym at Heathwood Hall.
“I was like, ‘Yo man, why didn’t you tell me you were injured?’” Rich said jokingly. “He said he didn’t think it was that big of a deal. He thought he was going to play until a trainer told him to put on a boot.
“I was like, ‘Do you know how many people are here to see you today?’”
Not only did Couisnard score, he locked down on defense, chased loose balls and crashed the offensive boards.
On Thursday he scored a put-back for his team’s first points. He scooped in for a layup and then swished a wing 3 to give his team a 20-18 lead.
He then bullied his way into the lane and scored over two defenders to make the score 39-37 and, for good measure, blocked a shot on the ensuing defensive possession.
Couisnard’s chemistry with Kotsar was also on display.
The young guard found the veteran forward with a bounce pass in the lane, and Kotsar completed the play with a layup to give their team a 49-37 lead. A similiar play with the same result made the score 68-55.
But all along it was the Couisnard show.
The East Chicago, Ind. native threw home a dunk to push the lead to 74-60 and converted a reverse layup to make it 83-71.
He then sank five 3s — yes, five 3s — in the final seven minutes of the game.
“I was really trying to get a triple-double,” Couisnard said after his team’s Thursday night win. “I was trying to get my teammates involved.”
“When he gets hot, he gets going,” Kotsar said. “… When I saw him going off in previous games, I tried to find him on the 3-point line just because I know that he’s going to knock that shot down whenever he gets going.
“He’s an all-around really good player. He can get to the rim. Obviously he can knock down 3s. And he’s a great passer. He can do pretty much everything.
The Gamecock sophomore said it wasn’t a goal of his to come out and make a statement, but once he got hot, he had to just, “let it go.”
“[When you’re in a zone like that], no one can stop you,” he said.
“Jermaine’s a pure scorer. I’ve been telling people that from the beginning,” Gamecock sophomore wing Keyshawn Bryant told Spurs & Feathers. “Wait until Jermaine gets ready to play. You all are going to be surprised.”
Added Gamecock center Alanzo Frink, “We’ve been watching Jermaine since high school. I already knew he’s a pure scorer. Every time he touches the ball, it’s going up. And he’s going to make everything.”