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South Carolina men's basketball 2015-16 player preview: Sindarius Thornwell

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The 2015-16 South Carolina men's basketball season kicks-off this week so we have released our player previews. The program's budding star is up next: Sindarius Thornwell.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

#0 Sindarius Thornwell

Junior

6-5 / 215

Lancaster, SC

College Career

No one on this roster has had more of an up-and-down college career than Thornwell and he's only had two years at this level. Thornwell was Frank Martin's first big land on the recruiting trail so he entered his first season with rather large expectations. He largely lived up to them too as he finished the season on the SEC's all-freshman team and as the program's second-leading scorer.

While his four-star expectations raced ahead of him, Thornwell entered his sophomore year as the team's highest returning scorer. His second season wasn't a total disaster but if you talked to him, he would likely tell you it was. Thornwell suffered from a bad case of chronic tendinitis in both of his knees last year. He started off the season well, contributing 16 points, four assists and two steals in the ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon game vs. Baylor. Thornwell then rattled off seven consecutive double-figure scoring games, including a 20-point contest against UNC-Charlotte in the Charleston Classic.

In South Carolina's biggest win of the season, an upset of No. 9 Iowa State in Brooklyn, Thornwell scored 13 points, hitting a 3-pointer, a lay-up, a free throw and grabbing a clutch steal all in the final 1:51 of the ballgame to seal the victory. Thornwell's tendinitis began to set-in as fall turned to winter and conference play began. He was able to secure 23 double-figure scoring games on the year, including a 20-pointer against top-ranked Kentucky. He finished as the team's second leading scorer despite his issues, but the production was a struggle instead of the ease it should have come with for a player like Thornwell.

It was tough to get going for Thornwell thanks to his knees. Every time he set on the bench, it meant he was going to have to restart the process of getting geared up the next time he took the floor. Martin did not reveal Thornwell's condition until after the season, fearing opponents would exploit it if the news was public knowledge. Thornwell's lift and explosiveness took a hit, he could barely touch the rim when exploding up on offense and his blocks dropped significantly from his freshman year on the defensive end.

His shooting percentage dropped from 39 percent to 33 percent, and his 3-PT percentage dropped 10 points from his first to second season. Thornwell made one more trey last season than he did his freshman year, but attempted 42 more during his second campaign. The knee tendinitis changed the way he played the game. Instead of being a driver and slasher, Thornwell settled for jump-shots as he tried to transform himself into a jump shooter. He's uncomfortable in that role and his knees affected his jump shooting just as much as it affected his drive-and-kick game.

2015-16 Outlook

After the season, Thornwell went through a procedure where bone marrow was injected into each of his knees to help alleviate his tendinitis issues. Martin cautions anyone who believes the junior's knees are shot. The only true way to heal tendinitis is rest, and Thornwell rested for much of the summer in addition to his procedure. Martin has seen the results as he told members of the media this fall that Thornwell's health and attitude was the most impressive aspect of preseason practice. He was flying around during the fall practice sessions, but more important to Martin, his infectious attitude was back. Martin said in the midst of a very frustrating sophomore season, his staff often had to pick Thornwell up, trying to encourage him to keep fighting despite the pain and poor performances. His body wasn't responding for the first time in his career and it was putting Thornwell in a bad place mentally. Now, Thornwell's attitude, his speed, his aggressiveness, his shot, have all improved from last season because his legs are finally underneath him.

That's not to say the adversity is over as he enters his third year. Thornwell lost his uncle, Dajuan Thornwell, this offseason. Nicknamed "Big Kuntry," the elder Thornwell served as the Gamecock star's father figure for most of his life. The junior labels his uncle as the person who taught him the game, bringing him to various South Carolina gyms for early mornings at early ages. Big Kuntry could be found at just about every one of Thornwell's games in Columbia. The loss has produced some difficult moments for this team's leader, but he believes his uncle provided all he could. Now it's up to him to ball.

With a heavy heart, Thornwell will enter the season as South Carolina's most important player. Just like his uncle raised him to be.