We take this regularly scheduled break from football talk to remind you that (a) yes, South Carolina still has a men's basketball team; (b) we're now just twenty days from the start of basketball practice on October 12; and (c) the early signing period for basketball recruits [November 14-21] is right around the corner.
What? You say you don't care? Am I wasting precious GABA resources talking about roundball on a football Saturday in September? Is that like wearing a pledge pin on my uniform? Or violating a UN anti-blasphemy edict? Or - worse- have I now somehow passed into the realm of those cerulean-clad, clinically insane denizens of that benighted border state where hoops and not football is king?
Well how about try this news on for size, Mr. Smarty Pants - Sindarius Thornwell's coach says: "It looks good from a USC standpoint."
Oh? What's that? Did that grab your attention? There's no shame in admitting it, son. It's OK to be a Gamecock basketball fan (even if no one wants to talk about it publicly these days). And Thornwell is just the sort of guy who could make you fall in love with it all over again.
In all seriousness, this is a major development that could potentially pay huge dividends for our struggling hoops program. Thornwell - from Lancaster, SC - is one of the two most highly-recruited players to emerge from the Palmetto State's prep ranks since Devan Downey committed to Cincinnati a decade ago (the other being Edisto's Brice Johnson who committed to UNC last year). At 6'5", 195 lbs., Thornwell is a big, physical shooting guard who used to play wide receiver for the Lancaster High Bruins football team - he says he still misses being able to run over corner backs - before concentrating solely on hoops.
Almost every scouting report you read on Sindarius raves about his court vision and ability to slash to the rim for either a shot or a timely assist. Scout rates him as a five star and the # 4 shooting guard in the nation. He also holds four star rankings from ESPN, 247 and Rivals. ESPN and 247 list him as the twelfth and eighth best 2G's in this recruiting class (Rivals hasn't assigned a position ranking yet). He is in every service's top 40 available recruits for 2013. There is a lot of talk that he could reach consensus five star status by the end of his senior season.
At Lancaster H.S., Sindarius exploded onto the national scene during his junior season, being named the SC Basketball Coach's Association's AAAA State player of the year for 2011-2012. He played his AAU basketall for Charlotte's Team United - which thanks in large part to Sindarius made a big splash in Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) and other showcase tournaments this past summer. He also made the 2012 Nike Global Challenge All Tournament Team.
Many of you may recall that Thornwell decided to forego his senior season at Lancaster H.S. in order to enroll for his final prep year at Oak Hill Academy in VIrginia - a nationally-prominent boarding-school program that specializes in collecting top prospects, improving their hardwood skills and also dragging them across the qualification line. While some detractors would call Oak Hill a hoops mill, for Thornwell it was a no-brainer to leave crime-ridden and impoverished Lancaster for such a prestigious program. In a recent interview with CarolinaPreps, Sindarius said his goals were to win a state championship with Oak Hill, and then make the McDonald's All American and Jordan Brand Classic (Nike) All Star games. One thing that comes across in his interviews is his work-ethic - which shows a lot of maturity for a young ballplayer in the national spotlight.
Do we really have a shot at Thornwell? I'd say it's anybody's guess right now, but every news report says that the two programs who've pursued him the hardest are Clemson and USC - and apparently Brad Brownell's Striped Beasts have not made the cut. Ohio State made an official offer in the spring. After suffering two successive beat downs by the Buckeyes, Gamecock fans know that Ohio State is currently several light years ahead of us - and the Scarlet and Gray covet Sindarius badly (they're also going hard after his Oak Hill teammate Troy Williams). N.C. State seems to be on an upswing under Mark Gottfried and, as you will recall, made the Sweet Sixteen last year; the Wolfpack can sell him on recent success while keeping him relatively close to home.
Still, you have to like that Sindarius: (i) says he wants to sign in the early letter of intent period, (ii) says he likes Frank Martin; and (iii) super-upper-echelon programs like UK, Duke and UNC haven't pursued him too hard at this point - likely due to grades (though no one says that publicly). That's not to say that Thornwell won't change his mind about signing early [lots of players do] - and if he does, then we might see Roy Williams swoop down and snatch him from lesser programs (the Tarheels were Sindarius' favorite teams growing up). But if Frank Martin does sign Sindarius - either in the fall or the spring as the case may be - it would be the biggest recruiting coup for the Cocks since Eddie Fogler convinced Irmo's B.J. McKie to stay home in 1996 - or Davey Odom landed the aforementioned Devan Downey in 2006 as a transfer from Cincinnati.
Since it appears two of Martin's 2012 recruits - Tarik Phillips (G, Queens) and Thaddeus Hall (G, Brooklyn) - have not qualified or enrolled at USC [they are not on the official roster] - there should be three open roster spots for next year's 2013-2014 season - assuming no other scholarship players transfer or are dismissed. It looks like we're going after Irmo's 6'4" G Justin McKie (B.J, McKie's son) and McDonough, GA 6'9" C Desmond Ringer the hardest right now for the other two open spots; all signs seem to point that we look good with both.
Without detracting from either of these other guys, however, they're not in Thornwell's league - but would be good additions around him. The guy who could be part of an All-SEC caliber backcourt at Carolina with Thornwell, however, is Columbia, SC PG and Gamecock commitment Marcus Stroman - who is already a consensus three-star recruit as a sophomore and whose stock is only bound to rise. You might have heard that Stroman's Keenan H.S. squad gave Sindarius' Oak Hill team all they wanted in a hard-fought game at the Richland N.E. Chik-Fil-A classic back in July - right before Stroman gave his pledge to join the Gamecocks for 2014-2015.
It's no exaggeration to say that together Marcus and Sindarius could surpass outstanding USC backcourt tandems of the past like Melvin Watson/B.J. McKie, Tre Kelly/Bryce Sheldon and Devan Downey/Zam Frederick. We're talking about a potential for Garnet and Black guard play unseen in Columbia since the likes of Kevin Joyce and John Roche suited up for Frank McGuire in the 1970s.
Can Frank Martin pull the rabbit out of the hat with Sindarius? Let's keep our fingers and toes crossed - Thornwell will be checking out the Missouri game today on an unofficial visit.
Oh, yeah ... Beat Mizzou too! GO COCKS!
If you'd like to read more about South Carolina basketball check out some of our recent hoops stories:
South Carolina Basketball: Analyzing the 2012 Schedule Part 1
South Carolina Basketball: Analyzing the 2012 Schedule Part 2
South Carolina Basketball: Analyzing the 2012 Schedule Part 3
South Carolina Men's Basketball: Grading Frank Martin's Recruiting Class
South Carolina and Frank Martin Close Out Class with PF Michael Carrera
Gamecock Roundball: Coach Martin lands his first 2014 prospect - "That kid is real!"
Gamecock Roundball: LaShay Page Commits (for real, this time)