COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -Lost your best player? Don't have the school's all-time leading shot-blocker? Seven new faces to break in? Sounds like a rebuilding year for South Carolina.
Not so, counters Gamecocks coach Dave Odom.
``I would take exception to that,'' he said Thursday. ``We do have a new team, but we do return experience.''
That's because the Gamecocks get high-profile transfers Devan Downey from Cincinnati, Zam Fredrick from Georgia Tech, and a lesser known but just as important guard in Branden Conrad from Navy, Odom said.
Downey, from Chester, made the Big East Conference's all-rookie team two years ago after averaging 12.3 points and 4.1 assists a game. But he left when Bob Huggins' replacement, Andy Kennedy, was not retained as Bearcats coach.
Fredrick, the son of 1980s Gamecocks star Zam Fredrick, spent two years at Georgia Tech after winning three state championships for his dad's Calhoun County team. The younger Fredrick played both guard spots with the Yellow Jackets, starting 18 games and averaging 10.6 points his final season there.
Conrad is the son of former Clemson star point guard, and current U.S. District Court judge, Bobby Conrad. Odom thinks the younger Conrad can sub in for Downey to keep him fresher and healthier over the long season.
Mix in several freshmen like Mike Holmes, Austin Steed and Sam Muldrow - all who Odom expects to challenge for starting spots during the season because of their high level of athleticism and skill - and Odom said the Gamecocks are shooting for the postseason.
``Can we play in the postseason?'' Odom said. ``Yes we can, and I expect to.''
That might seem like a longshot to some since gone are the Gamecocks' most important players from a year ago.
Tre Kelley was an SEC player of the year candidate who averaged almost 37 minutes and 19 points a game, much of it on a knee that required surgery after the season. Brandon Wallace averaged 9.9 points and 9.4 rebounds last season and left as South Carolina's leader in blocked shots with 249.
But Downey plays at a frenetic pace that's going to force the other Gamecocks to keep up, Odom said.
``If you lose a point guard the caliber of Tre Kelley, you want a Devan Downey to take his place,'' Odom said. ``We have him.''
The 6-foot-7 Holmes, the 6-8 Steed and the 6-9 Muldrow will rotate around the area Wallace took care of so well last year. ``You want some new players to come in with the passion to rebound and block shots and play defense,'' Odom said. ``I think we have that.''
Downey, Fredrick and Conrad all had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules. And there were some frustrating moments they had to just watch.
The low point was an 84-50 home loss to No. 2 Florida when all they wanted to do was get on the court to help.
``That was the hardest, saying, 'Man, I could've done this. I could've helped them,''' Downey said.
Odom often looked down his bench last year and saw more ``coats and ties than guys in uniform,'' he said.
This season, ``I think we'll have the answers on the bench,'' Odom said.
Two important goals for the Gamecocks this year are to improve on their last-place SEC finish at 4-12, and compete harder at home.
The Florida defeat was part of a three-game losing streak at the Colonial Center where the Gamecocks were outscored by a total of 88 points. Their 87-49 loss to Kentucky last Jan. 16 was South Carolina's worst home defeat since 1915.
But Downey sees a group that can make shots, rebound, play defense - and won't get blown out like last season.
``This team right here is going to surprise so many people this year,'' Downey said.

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