The NBA draft was this week, so let’s have a basketball question for our first Q&A in a while! Who is your all-time favorite Gamecock basketball player? You can choose a men’s or women’s basketball player and they don’t need to necessarily be the best in Carolina history, just your personal favorite.
A year or two ago I might have answered Michael Carrera, but he’s been knocked out of the top spot for me by A’ja Wilson. I’m not even sure where to start with why I love her. She’s got a ton of personality off the court, including her notable love of pearls and a very active twitter account. She’s also obviously a great player, one that changed the program when she came to South Carolina. She’s piled up awards and praise since she started college and it’s so much fun to watch her play for us.
On top of all of that, A’ja Wilson was a key part of bringing a national championship to South Carolina in April. I loved watching A’ja and Kaela Davis dance with the band in their Cut The Net shirts and then again after the national title. Most of all, I loved seeing how much the championship meant to her, as she cried on the sidelines as the game wound down and in her postgame interview. As someone who gets very emotional over sports, it was special to see some of that same emotion mirrored in a player that had just helped bring home a trophy for the school we both love.
This is such a cliche answer for every South Carolina basketball fan, but it’s Sindarius Thornwell. I got to cover his first game as a student against Longwood in a nearly empty Colonial Life Arena. I instantly fell in love with him. He scored 14 points and held Longwood’s leading scorer (Tristan Carey, 18.5 ppg in 2013-14) to 12 points on 5-of-20 shooting -- a total badass on the defensive end. There was an intensity so uncommon about him I couldn’t help but swoon over the freshman from Lancaster.
From his sophomore to his junior season, I watched him grow and develop as shooter but one thing that stayed the same was his ability to enforce his will on the defensive end to suffocate opposing scorers. After two bad seasons and a junior year that ultimately ended in disappointment, I could only hope Thornwell would finally get what he deserved after spurning a handful of top programs out of high school for the flagship University of South Carolina. The tournament run, him becoming a household name over the course of March and now being drafted by the Clippers -- he’s a success story unlike anything the program has seen. Here’s a health Sindarius, forever to thee.
Chris took mine (I knew someone would!), but I’m going to say Sindarius Thornwell as well. Part of it is recency bias, but part of it is just how he was able to put the team on his shoulders and lead them to the Final Four this past season. My favorite game from him has to be his 44-point, 21-rebound quadruple overtime performance against Alabama; even though they lost that game, you knew that he basically spent every bit of energy in his body to ensure that they won and that he wasn’t going to be faulted if they did go down (which they did, unfortunately). By the time this gets published on the site, he hopefully will be drafted by an NBA team, and for my money he’s going to make a better franchise out of wherever he ends up.
I’ve got to say Michael Carrera is up there too. He won’t go down as the greatest player in program history, but I won’t forget his love for the game, his passion, and the way he handled himself on and off the court.
My first instinct was to continue the Sindarius hype-train, but I’m going to go a bit against the grain here and say Chris Silva. I can vividly remember sitting in Colonial Life and going absolutely bonkers when PJ Dozier connected with Silva for an alley-oop against Norfolk State in 2015. I believe my exact reaction was, “Did the Gamecocks just oop it? The Gamecocks don’t oop it!” Prior to that moment, I had not witnessed a South Carolina team that had the athleticism to pull off such moves. Oh, how things have changed since Frank Martin’s hire.
Since a freshman campaign that was equally full of frustration and promise, Silva has developed into an absolute terror under the net - on offense and defense. His sophomore year he doubled his points per game (10.2) and led the team in blocks while becoming arguably the team’s most consistent player. In the Final Four, he even held his own one-on-one against Gonzaga’s behemoth of a center Przemek Karnowski. Now with the departures of PJ, Sindarius and Duane Notice, Silva will have to be the guy in 2017. I think he’s showed he’s ready.