Seniors embraced awkward season, finishing last in ASUN

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Mike Cunningham was whistled for a technical foul on this play as he pointed to a fan making a noise during the ASUN’s first-round conference playoff game Monday night. USC Upstate coach Kyle Perry also got a technical in this sequence.
Photos from Katie Klann/Naples (Fla.) Daily News and the Carolinian’s Brandon Pack


By Cameron Jarrell
For The Carolinian

The last run at their individual and team goals for Ramel Thompkins, Carson Smith and Jacob Schulte came to an end last week at USC Upstate’s final game at the Hodge Center.

Thompkins and Smith combined for 19 points (Thompson 10, Smith 9) in the Spartans’ final regular season game, a loss to NJIT.

The Spartans’ season ended Monday night, losing to Florida Gulf Coast University, 96-76, in the first round of the ASUN Conference tournament. Thompkins scored 14 points and Smith was held scoreless.

The players faced more adversity than the average seniors when their former head coach, Eddie Paine, retired the first day of practice due to health problems.

It’s been a rough year as Upstate experienced its worst season, 7-25, since the 2010-2011.  Upstate was 2-12 in the ASUN conference. The players said they don’t believe there was too much of an effect on the team – Kyle Perry was promoted from assistant coach to head coach and awarded a 5-year contract. Perry kept the assistants intact.

The only real change was the head coaching style, Thompkins said.

“Perry is more aggressive, a punishment now type of person, where coach Paine was just if you keep messing up you’ll run,” Thompkins said.

The players are embracing this last run and preparing for what will be a tough challenge facing defending ASUN champion and number one seed Florida Gulf Coast on the road in the first round of the conference tournament.

“My mindset for my last game is to have fun with my teammates one last time and to put the season behind us because we haven’t been doing too good,” Smith said. “It’s do or die.”

“I really will try to do the same thing,” Thompkins said.  “I really try not to think about it because when you add the extra pressure, it can help or hurt you.”

For Schulte, just playing the game he loves is reward enough.  “I just hope I can play,” said the redshirt junior, who tore his ACL in the preseason and was awarded a medical hardship to play one more season.

“We’ve played Gulf Coast twice so we’re familiar with the team, we’ve just got to go out and play,” Schulte said.

The Spartans held their own against FGCU, leading by 15 at halftime before falling short down the stretch in an 88-71 loss at home on Feb. 10.

The players also reflected on their past and what they’ve learned in their years at Upstate.

Thompkins said if he could go back he would do things a little differently.

“I would take it more seriously,” Thompkins said. “When I got here I was always joking and laughing all the time, and as the years went on I got more serious about it and changed the way I played.”

Schulte said that his time at Upstate has prepared him well for his dream of being a head coach.  “I want to get into coaching, so my time has given me a good insight into the ins and outs of coaching.”

Smith and Thompkins said goal after graduating is to play professional basketball.

“I want to play overseas. I want to see new places,” Thompkins said. “I don’t want to play anywhere cold,” he joked.

The players are just like your average college athletes. They have pregame rituals, such as Thompkins taking a 30-minute nap, waking and walking around his room before heading to the gym.

Smith enjoys candy, as in peanut M&Ms.

Both players said they listen to select playlists to help put them in a zone.

They have big dreams like playing overseas in a warm country, or as the next basketball coach being sought by major schools.

Perry said the seniors represented Upstate well. “They impacted our school and our program greatly,” Perry said.  All three young men are great people and ambassadors for our university. They have done everything the right way while being here.”