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December 20, 2013
Thornwell slowly embracing leadership role
He's the highest-rated recruit head coach Frank Martin signed, the jewel in the crown of the 2013 class.
A four-star recruit rated the No. 43 player in the nation by Rivals.com and the No. 11 shooting guard, Sindarius Thornwell was considered a must-get coming out of Lancaster via Virginia's Oak Hill Academy.
For a South Carolina team that in 2012-13 often made scoring baskets look harder than throwing a baseball through the eye of a needle, finding a pure scorer was Martin's challenge. In Thornwell, Martin got that and more - at 6-foot-5, Thornwell also had the kind of size Martin knew he needed on the perimeter to match up with the long bodies of elite SEC guards.
So far this season, Thornwell has shown he can score - he leads the team with a 13.6 average and had 19 points last night against USC Upstate, one point shy of his season-high of 20 points against Baylor. He's also shown he's still a freshman with a lot to learn. Thornwell said the challenge for himself and his fellow six freshman has been realizing just how much they have to learn.
"The toughest thing for us is we're used to being the man in high school, so we come here and everybody is good," Thornwell said. "We have to learn to accept our roles and come together.
"Practices are definitely harder than high school. Everybody can play, so you have to learn how to stand out. One thing I've learned is that coach is going to yell, so we just learn how to accept the yelling and learn how to play. It helps you a lot. It helps me, accepting his yelling and going out and playing. It doesn't mess me up."
Thornwell said whereas in high school he could basically create his own shot at will, in college he still can, but the timing of those shots has changed.
"I can still create my own shot, but I stay within the system," Thornwell said. "That's the hardest thing I'm learning, how I get my shots in his system.
"The hardest thing I'm learning right now is using screens and learning how to play off the ball. In high school you could easily take your man, but in college it's a lot harder. Everything is more physical, the game is faster. I'm learning how to adjust to everything."
One of the things Thornwell is adjusting to game-by-game is being the Gamecocks' go-to scorer. It started in the Baylor game and has continued since, as no other player has his perimeter game, fall-away shot or ability to drive, draw the foul and make the basket. It's a role Thornwell is reluctant to embrace, if only because of his youth on a team with older players such as Ty Johnson, Bruce Ellington and Brent Williams.
"Right now I don't really feel it because I don't really know the system where I can branch off and do my own thing," Thornwell said. "If I was the go-to guy, well, I don't really look at it as that. I look at it as I have to get my team going or we have to get it going.
"I had a good game (against Baylor). But it could have been anybody. Anybody, if they were scoring the way I was, could have had the ball in their hand. It's who has the hot hand, and I had the hot hand. Unfortunately, I came up short.
One thing is that it shows coach trusts me with the ball as a freshman. He puts the ball in my hands, so I have to mature and learn how to make the right play."
Thornwell said in practice Martin's corrections center around two things.
"Coach gets on me most of the time for turning the ball over," Thornwell said. "Right now, I'm turning the ball over a lot, so he gets on me to take care of the ball. And he gets on me about my shot, because I haven't been making many shots lately so he gets on me about my footwork and my shot. It'll come over time."
Well, make that three things.
"And my defense, too, coach gets on me for," Thornwell says. "I forgot about that. I always get beat on defense, so I have to learn there.
"It's hard as a freshman, but I have to accept the role and learn."
How quickly he learns only time will tell, but of the seven freshmen Martin signed, Thornwell will be the player the class - of not the program - likely is judged by. Thornwell is OK with that, because he believes in the players around him.
"I love everybody on this team," Thornwell said. "The chemistry we have among the freshmen and team is good. I love the game's other people bring to the table. If we can correct our own mistakes and keep learning, we're going to be good."
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