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June 27, 2013
Day 4 of the S.C. Pro Am summer basketball league, featuring current, former and future South Carolina basketball players, took place on Thursday at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School and GamecockCentral.com was there.
Just as Sunday's main attraction was the performance of incoming USC freshman Sindarius Thornwell, on Thursday it was the debut performance of wunderkind point guard Seventh Woods, a rising sophomore at The Hammond School already touted as among the top 15 players in the nation in his class.
Having just been named earlier this month to the prestigious U.S. Men's Basketball U-16 team, Woods faced a lineup of experienced players led by former USC greats Devan Downey and Carlos Powell. Making the game even more interesting was that unexpectedly joining Woods in the backcourt was USC two-sport star Bruce Ellington, who is not participating with any team in the summer league but suited up on Thursday in front of a crowd of approximately 300 people.
Bottom line: Woods did not disappoint in any way. Far from it, in fact. While his stat line may not be eye-popping - 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals - for some reason, his other teammates time and again did not get him the ball, preferring to mostly do their own thing, including Ellington, who finished with six points, one rebound and one assist.
I think some of that had to do with the fact that his team had been practicing and playing without him for a couple of weeks now, so the addition of Ellington and Woods to the lineup wasn't a smooth transition, and a couple of his teammates from smaller colleges didn't seem to grasp the idea that hundreds of people didn't show up to see them.
Even so, there were highlights that showed just what kind of a talent this young man is. He's special. Even penetrating the lane against grown men such as Powell, and facing off against a defender in Downey who was as good as USC has had (he's the all-time leader in steals and got a nice pick off Woods late in the game), Woods showed he can almost do whatever he feels like, whenever he feels like it. He plays with a confidence that should not belong to a 14-year-old.
He is super-quick, and he jumps so high I'd almost be willing to bet his chin can reach the top of the backboard. For a player listed at 6-foot-2, that's insanely impressive. His signature moment came in the first half. At the top of the key, he crossed over in the blink of an eye to his right, left his defender standing still, and found himself with a wide-open lane to the basket from the right corner of the foul line.
In two steps he went from 0 to 60 and slammed down a massive, Blake Griffin-worthy one-handed dunk from far above the rim that sent the crowd into a frenzy and showed what he was capable of at any time.
While not quite matching the spectacular talent of Woods, the first game featured two future Gamecocks who fell into the pleasant surprise category with their play.
Incoming freshman guard Jaylen Shaw had a stellar night, stopping and popping, penetrating and generating easy layups and going 2-of-3 from 3-point range to finish with 18 points, five rebounds and seven assists. Almost as impressive was his counterpart, 2014 commitment Marcus Stroman, also a guard. Stroman was an assist machine early on, recording six in the first eight minutes and showing above-average instincts for interior passing. Both Shaw and Stroman seemed to play at a higher pace than their teammates, and it showed in the scorebook as Stroman scored 13 points with seven rebounds and eight assists.
Incoming guard Justin McKie rebounded from a rough performance on Sunday by overcoming horrendous first-half shooting (3-of-12 at one point, with at least three misses coming on layups) to score 15 points with three rebounds and two assists. He admitted that he's struggling, but he's also been constantly working out at USC and was playing with a slightly twisted right ankle.
The night's final game featured Thornwell and Ty Johnson against incoming freshman Demetrius Henry and current USC guard Brenton Williams.
Thornwell remained his remarkable self, scoring 14 of his 15 points in the first quarter and collecting eight rebounds, while Johnson played a very strong game out of the gate, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the first half as well as dishing four assists.
Henry scored four points. Williams continued his strong play in the Pro Am, scoring 20 points with five assists while leading his team to a one-point win over Johnson and Thornwell's squad.
CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS: Of these, there were plenty, starting with former USC All-American and current San Diego Charger Melvin Ingram. Ingram, who tore an ACL in mid-May, is already off crutches and walking normally, and said he feels fine. He was joined by fellow Gamecock football players J.T. Surratt and Sharrod Golightly, who has been a fixture at games so far.
On the hoops side, USC women's basketball incoming freshman Alaina Coates was at the game with her friend and USC target A'ja Wilson, the top player in the country in the 2014 class who plays at Heathwood Hall (her picture is on a banner in the gym, in fact) and who also, like Woods, was named earlier this month to the USA National Team (U-19, in her case).
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