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June 20, 2013
The second day of the S.C. Pro Am was on Thursday and several past and present South Carolina players participated. The evening was highlighted by a game between a team featuring Keenan High School's Marcus Stroman, a USC commitment for the next class, and a team featuring freshman Sindarius Thornwell, a top-50 recruit, and junior Ty Johnson, who will be eligible for the Gamecocks in mid-December after transferring from Villanova.
Thornwell did what he does. He's a high-energy player, always moving and playing tight defense, even in a game that doesn't mean anything. He scored 13 points despite playing in the middle (there weren't many big men in the game and he's a natural two-guard). He also blocked the game-winning shot attempt to preserve an 88-87 win.
He's very good guarding the ball, has a lot of range on offense and can play point guard, which is something that the Gamecocks may have to utilize once the season begins. With Johnson out until December and Bruce Ellington playing football, USC's only other choices at the point are fellow freshmen Duane Notice and Jaylen Shaw. No matter the choice, it will be a freshman out there, asked to play the most important position on the floor from the get-go. While there can be a difference between playing the true point or just being the guy to bring the ball up the floor, USC wants to have a point guard. There are just too many questions on how the Gamecocks will score to not have one.
But, Thornwell shows good athleticism, he's always running, and he can play all over the floor. He won't just stick to the perimeter and shoot, and in fact, his game seems to be better inside. He got the ball on a fast break and saw a defender running pell-mell to hack him, so he simply flipped the ball from his outside hand, a bit too high, but Johnson corralled it and got the tip-in on the alley-oop. He knows he'll have a target on his back as the highest-rated freshman of a freshman-studded team, but he's already received a taste of the big time by playing at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy last year.
Johnson will be the guy who will take over the point role once he's cleared. He's used to being the leader and is fully prepared to take that mantle despite being in the same boat as the seven freshmen - he's never played a game at USC, either. He's got the moves to take the ball and drive to the hole, very quick and efficient with the dribble, and he never seems at a loss of what to do. Constant directing, playing his man and if he needs to, scoring. He had 18 points on Thursday. Very smooth player, can play above the rim if he needs to. The question is if USC can get any kind of offensive flow to really get his game-directing into gear. That will all hopefully be worked out by the time he gets cleared to play.
Stroman, who has been committed to USC for quite a while but still has his senior year of high school to play, couldn't get lost on the court due to wearing a pair of Day-Glo yellow sneakers. He's put on some muscle since the high-school season and had nine points and eight assists. He's another guy that is very good with the ball, maybe a bit too hesitant to take it himself at times, but realizes that he's out there to pass first and shoot second. I look forward to watching him play his final year of prep ball to see how he develops.
The other game of the day with most of the USC connections had Michael Carrera and Justin McKie going up against a team led by Devan Downey. Downey, as Downey does, scored 35 points, including 14 of his team's 18 in one stretch. Always a good day when you get to watch him play. But, it wasn't enough as the Carrera/McKie team won 101-89.
Carrera, after scoring 31 points in his first game of the Pro Am, had 24 on Thursday. He was getting into the paint more for his customary putbacks and also trading skin with some of the other players - again, there was a lack of true big men, so he played center for most of the game. In the half-court, he surprisingly took a lot of 3-pointers (eight) but only made two. Then again, final-stamping performances from exhibition games isn't the best way to judge. Carrera had 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and three blocks. He was himself, which was good to see after he really limped his way to the finish last year with that bad hip.
McKie didn't play the whole game, which was certainly excusable. As usual, strength coach Scott Greenawalt is working the players hard this offseason. McKie worked out twice on Thursday before going to the game and was naturally tired. He didn't let that affect him once he got on the court, though.
McKie is that kind of kid who knows that he probably won't be the most talented player on the court every day, but refuses to let that dictate his effort. He's always moving, willing to do anything on the court, play anywhere, take the shot or just play defense. He can play all over the floor and is good with the ball, and refuses to let a bad start derail him. He missed his first six shots on Thursday but finished with 13 points. I really like his energy, which is something that he'll have to supply every night. I know he comes in with a lot of accolades (state Gatorade player of the year, Mr. Basketball, BJ McKie's son) but he's not going to be a guy who scores 25 a night. He'll be in there hustling, getting six or eight points with four boards and two assists, and he'll play hard. As someone told me when he signed, when's the last time a kid coached by Tim Whipple (Irmo) went to college and didn't contribute? McKie's no different.
Some other notes:
Austin Constable has joined the Pro Am for the rest of the summer. He's another kid that always plays hard, despite the down-the-nose "walk-on" looks he gets from a lot of others. Plays strong defense and can hit that corner 3-pointer.
Footballers A.J. Cann and Dylan Thompson watched most of the games, and Bruce Ellington joined later.
Former women's players Ashley Bruner, La'Keisha Sutton, Ebony Wilson, Ieasia Walker and Markeisha Grant also attended. Freshman Alaina Coates was there along with USC target A'ja Wilson, the No. 1 national recruit for the next cycle that plays at Heathwood Hall. Wilson will be heading to Lithuania soon with the U.S. national team.
Johndre Jefferson, a kid I always liked when he played for USC, is probably heading to Greece to play this year. Downey played in Romania last year but probably won't go back there, preferring another locale.
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