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Bruce Ellington re-joins the basketball team

Ellington has practiced with the team and will make his debut on Friday evening against the 9th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Bruce Ellington returns to the Carolina hoops squad just in time for a difficult non-conference road match-up against the Cowboys.
Bruce Ellington returns to the Carolina hoops squad just in time for a difficult non-conference road match-up against the Cowboys.
Kevin C. Cox

Frank Martin spoke with the media this week in anticipation of the Gamecocks' match-up in Stillwater against a very tough Oklahoma State team, and let it slip that an important contributor for the Gamecocks would be back sooner than many expected.

"I can't lie to you, I'm not a good liar - he practiced [Tuesday]," Martin told reporters.  And according to Martin, Ellington is already making contributions.

"Twenty minutes in he already stood some of the things that we're doing differently better than some of the guys that have been here eight weeks.  He brings that dynamic.  He brings a speed, a strength, that sense of urgency, and a personality that becomes infectious."

Those characteristics are already rubbing off on teammates.

"He took the ball today, and it was kind of a broken situation and he didn't know if he was supposed to keep attacking or slow it down, and he just slowed it down and called an offense.  I didn't say a word.  Next time, Ty [Johnson] had the ball, and Ty called an offense.  That's been my fight with Ty for the whole preseason is 'Ty, as a point guard, you've got to get guys on the same page, that's your job.'  Well just that moment with Bruce made Ty do his job because that's what [Bruce] brings.  It's a dynamic of winning," explained Martin.

Martin indicated that Ellington may only be with the Gamecocks for a few outings before he returns to the football team to prepare for their bowl game, likely at either the Cotton Bowl or the Capital One Bowl.

Last year, Ellington struggled mightily out of the gate when he re-joined the basketball team between the end of football's regular season and the bowl game.  Playing only five days after the Clemson win, he played 29 minutes in a 89-65 loss at St. Johns, where he showed up shooting over 20 percent of the shots available to him while making only three of ten.  In those four games before he returned to the football team, Ellington took 33 shots and only doled out four assists against eleven turnovers.

While last year he dramatically reduced the percentage of shots he took (he averaged 29.4% his first two years; last year, he only took 22.7% of shots taken while he was on the floor), he also reduced his shots assisted to 17.9%, whereas in his first two years at Carolina he was over 20% and ranking in the top 300ish of all players in NCAA.  Meanwhile, his turnover rate increased from below 20% to 24.3%.

With a brand new cast of characters surrounding him, I'd look for Ellington to revert back to the guy he was his freshman and sophomore years.  While Carolina still hasn't found enough guys to take up all of the offensive responsibilities it needs served, there are fewer black holes on the offensive end this year.

Whereas last year, Ellington and others had to compensate for the inability or insistence against shooting of Mindaugas Kacinas, Eric Smith, RJ Slawson, and Lakeem Jackson (all of whom took had a shot percentage below 16 percent, leaving the others to pick up the additional burden), six of the seven Gamecocks who saw the floor against FIU take between 20-26% of the shots while on the court, which keeps everyone involved and forces defenses to account for every man on the court.

But Martin indicated that, no matter where Ellington is offensively, he'll likely be on the floor Friday, given his effort level and his abilities on defense.

"He's gonna play as hard as he can, and he understands the basic fundamentals of our defensive concepts, so if he screws things up, he might screw them up on offense a little bit, which I can live with because you can always play around a mistake on offense - it's hard to play around a mistake on defense."  Against Marcus Smart and the excellent Oklahoma State offense, the Gamecocks will need all the help they can get.

Tip-off is at 9:30pm from Stillwater, Oklahoma, and will be televised on ESPNU.