South Carolina’s starting shooting guard, LaShay Page, is done for the season because of an “academic eligibility issue,” the school announced Friday afternoon.
Page played in nine of USC’s 12 games this season and averaged 11.7 points, second on the team to guard Brenton Williams’ 13. Page missed the Dec. 7 game against Jacksonville because he was sick. He returned Dec. 19 against Appalachian State – USC’s first game after final exams. It turned out to be the final game of his college career.
A fifth-year senior who transferred from Southern Mississippi for this season, Page did not play in the next two games after Appalachian State – Manhattan and Presbyterian – because of an academic issue. As the Gamecocks prepared for Saturday’s home game against South Carolina State, their first since the win over Presbyterian, coach Frank Martin said Thursday that USC officials were meeting that day about Page’s situation. Martin said he expected a resolution soon.
Coming out of Dillon High, Page wasn’t academically eligible to play at a Division I school, so he spent two seasons at a Florida junior college and redshirted his first season, 2008-09. Then he spent 2010-11 and 2011-12 at Southern Miss. In part because he graduated from Southern Miss, he received waivers from the NCAA and Southeastern Conference to spend his final season at USC without sitting out a year, which the NCAA usually requires for transferring players.
Coach Larry Eustachy’s departure from Southern Miss for Colorado State played a role in Page’s desire to transfer to USC for his final season, Page said. So did the fact that Page has two daughters who live with their mother in Marion. Page’s mother died last February.
Page, who turned 23 on Christmas Eve, grabbed a leadership role for the Gamecocks immediately after he arrived. Martin likes assertive players who communicate in practice, and he praised Page for taking charge of a team with just one other senior, wing player Lakeem Jackson.
Though USC was only going to have Page for one season, he seemed to be a valuable asset as Martin tries to build a winner.
Page helped Southern Miss make the NCAA tournament last season, and Martin said since before the season that Page’s presence would be an important factor in changing the mindset of USC’s locker room, as the Gamecocks attempted to move past three consecutive losing seasons.
Page played well initially. His first six games included scoring outputs of 12, 16, 19, 20 and 22 points. But in the three games after that, he scored just two, three and seven points, while shooting 1 of 7, 1 of 6 and 1 of 9.
Still, his academic ineligibility leaves a void. He started every game he played for the Gamecocks, who will now need juniors Brian Richardson and Williams to take on larger roles.
Williams already has been. He started the three games Page missed, and his past seven games have included scoring outputs of 17, 10, 16, 12, 11, 17 and nine. Williams did not start any games last season, when he averaged 6.1 points.
While Williams is just 5-11, the 6-4 Richardson can be a defensive asset with his length, said Martin, who likes players who can contribute on that end of the floor. Richardson was an offensive non-factor last season, when he averaged 3.2 points. But he has come on strong lately, scoring 12, 16 and 16 points in three of the past four games, to boost his average to 8.3.
The Presbyterian game was his first start of the season. He started 24 of 30 games as a freshman but just two games last season.
Page is a 6-2 physical guard, so the Gamecocks will need someone to fill that role as a defender. Their backcourt is getting a boost now that football season is over and 5-9 junior Bruce Ellington is transitioning from wide receiver to point guard. Ellington was the Gamecocks’ starting point guard the past two seasons. He was their No. 2 scorer last season (11 points per game) and their leading returning scorer.
While Ellington has played four games so far this season, 5-11 junior Eric Smith has started every game at point guard – and performed well at times. Now the Page is done, perhaps Martin will consider playing Smith and Ellington together, to free Ellington for scoring opportunities, since he is a more dangerous offensive player than Smith.
That probably won’t happen on Saturday, though, because Martin said he plans to not play Ellington against South Carolina State, as he rests and works his way back into basketball mode.
Before Page was declared academically ineligible, the Gamecocks had 12 scholarship players, if you count Ellington, who is technically on a football scholarship. Starting wing player and No. 3 scorer Michael Carrera (10.4 points per game) is still out with a lingering hip injury, so he won’t play against South Carolina State. Big man Carlton Geathers is still out with a knee injury.
So the Gamecocks will go with eight scholarship players against South Carolina State, but they will be back to at least nine once Ellington returns for Wednesday’s SEC opener at Mississippi State, which likely will battle USC this season to stay out of the league’s cellar. It remains unclear when Geathers and Carrera will be able to return. Geathers hasn’t played all year.