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Senior Day: Honoring Sindarius Thornwell

He may not be the best player in program history, but he certainly is the most important.

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NCAA Basketball: Florida at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

On October 2nd, 2012, Sindarius Thornwell committed to play basketball at his home state’s flagship university. The four star recruit out of Lancaster, SC spurned interest from elite programs such as Louisville, Indiana and Syracuse. He decided he wanted to be part of Frank Martin’s mission in building a program in Columbia that is capable of annually making the NCAA Tournament.

When Sindarius Thornwell stepped onto campus his freshman year he was instantly the best player on a bad team. Joined by his fellow freshmen Duane Notice and Justin McKie, these newly christened Gamecocks set about not only trying to win more basketball games, but changing an entire culture. Their first season was rough, as Frank Martin’s second Gamecock squad only went 14-20. However, they were clearly more competitive than the previous team and you could sense that the identity of the program was slowly being changed.

In the 2014-15 campaign Sindarius battled through some injuries and led South Carolina to their first winning season since Darrin Horn’s first season. However, last year was when Sindarius truly started to living up to his potential as he, along with Michael Carrera, paved the way to a 25 win season that ultimately ended with a snub on Selection Sunday. Despite advancing to the third round of the NIT, that made three seasons where Sindarius and the Gamecocks had failed to make the NCAA Tournament. The biggest question going into this year was “Can Sindarius lead a fairly young team through a tougher schedule and find a way into The Dance?”

It turns out that the answer is (most likely) a resounding yes. Sindarius has exploded onto the scene during his senior season as he is averaging 21 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, and 2.2 SPG. Despite serving a 6 game suspension where the Gamecocks went 3-3, Sindarius has time and time again put the team on his back and carried them to victory after victory.

With the Gamecocks poised to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004, I find it appropriate to briefly mention some of the other basketball greats to come through Columbia. Devan Downey, Tre Kelley, John Roche, Melvin Watson, Alex English...the list goes on and on. All of them talented, all of them important and all of them having an argument to be on the “Mount Rushmore” of South Carolina basketball. However none of them, and I mean NONE of them, are more important to South Carolina basketball than Sindarius Thornwell.

The struggles of South Carolina basketball are historically well noted on this website. Despite some success under Frank McGuire, Eddie Folger and others, the program hasn’t been able to maintain a high level of play over a long period of time. When Sindarius Thornwell came to the University of South Carolina, the program was in the dumps and in dire need of life. Sindarius immediately provided that optimism to the program and the fans. Fans could see tangible hope for the program and see how, one day in the near future, they will be expected to compete with the Kentucky’s and Florida’s of the world.

That day, in large part to the contributions of Mr. Thornwell, has arrived. Sindarius has led, along with Coach Martin, Duane Notice, and Justin McKie, a complete change of culture in the men’s basketball program. When the Gamecocks are seemingly on the brink of losing a game, Thornwell rallies his troops and absolutely refuses to lose. His embracing of Frank Martin’s aggressive man-to-man style, his tenacity in grabbing rebound after rebound and his bulldog mentality of “I’m going to get to the rim on offense, try and stop me” has made Gamecock basketball fun again.

There will be a lot of emotions for Sindarius, his family and Coach Martin tomorrow. Sindarius will likely hug Coach Martin tight during Senior Day ceremonies and they will both shed tears. However, I hope he realizes just how much he is appreciated by the entire Gamecock fanbase. Frank Martin is a great coach but, and he will be the first to tell you this, our success the last two seasons would likely not have happened without Sindarius.

The ball will tip up around 7 PM, and the Gamecocks will play a late season basketball game as they jockey for seeding in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. However, before the game starts, take a close look at Sindarius Thornwell during warmups and realize we have witnessed the birth of a Gamecock basketball legend during these last 4 years.

Sindarius will likely win SEC POTY, make 1st Team All-SEC and possibly some All-American teams. Yet, all of these honors cannot describe his value to the Gamecock basketball program. Sindarius is young man who did not take the easy way out and chose to build something special in his home state.

Ten years from now, your children or grand-children will walk into Colonial Life Arena, look up and see Sindarius’ number 0 jersey hanging from the rafters. The jersey of a Gamecock legend and South Carolina’s most important basketball player ever.

Thank you, Sindarius.