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February 17, 2014

Praise rolls in for Thornwell, Martin

With South Carolina on a two-game winning streak and Sindarius Thornwell named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week for the second time this season, the weekly SEC coaches teleconference Monday afternoon was practically a Gamecock love-fest.

On the subject of Thornwell, who averaged 20.5 points per game last week in home victories over Vanderbilt and Alabama, SEC coaches had nothing but praise. Here's a sampling:

Billy Kennedy, Texas A&: (Thornwell's) size and physical-ness (are most impressive). He's able to get in the lane and shoot over people and get to the free-throw line. For a freshman he's got good maturity at that position that he's playing.

Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt: Thornwell is an outstanding freshman. He's a complete player, to me. He can shoot the ball, he can put it on the floor, he likes contact. He's a guy that likes contact when he's driving the ball. He's solid defensively. He's one of those rare guys, I think, as a freshman that really does a little bit of everything and does it all well.

Johnny Jones, LSU: He's an excellent basketball player. He can shoot the ball, very crafty. Great mid-range game and very competitive. I really liked him and think he's really one of the top players in our league. He does a lot of great things on the floor to help his team.

Anthony Grant, Alabama: He's a good player. Freshman, very tough. Mentally tough, physically tough, knows how to make plays.

Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss: He's really good. He's big, he's strong. He's really improved his perimeter skills. Initially, I think, when he got there, it was about strength, toughness and work, coming up with some garbage baskets, driving the ball to the hoop, but now he's making 3-point shots, he's playing with a great deal of confidence. He's one of the best freshmen in our league.

For head coach Frank Martin, the recognition Thornwell is receiving is well deserved not just for what he does offensively but for his often-overlooked improvement on the defensive end.

"I'm extremely proud of him," Martin said. "Not only is he performing, he's taking on the leadership role of our team. He's the guy that everyone pencils in when they prepare a scouting report against us, he's also taking on defensive responsibilities against the better players on the other team.

"Against Alabama the other day, he had to take on (Trevor) Releford to stop him there at the end of the game. Against Vanderbilt he had (Rod) Odom. His growth as a player has been extremely fun to be around. We're excited for who he is and who he's becoming."

"He's taken the leadership role on our team. He and I, we've connected. He believes in what I believe in, and I believe in what he believes in. That's why he's having the success he's having as a player."

The praise on the SEC weekly teleconference wasn't limited to Thornwell alone, however. Martin has more than his share of admirers around the league. Here are Martin's peers on the job he's doing in Columbia:

John Calipari, Kentucky: I haven't (scouted them) because we don't play them for a little while, but Frank and I have talked a little bit and I feel like the stuff where I've seen where I'm watching the other team play South Carolina, they play extremely hard and they fight and they're executing.

Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt: Against us they played very well, very hard. They were just better in every facet the day that we played them than we were. Williams is shooting the ball at a very, very high clip. I saw that they won a close one over the weekend, and I'm not surprised, because they played very well against us.

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson: They've lost a lot of close games, especially at home, and of course are riding a two-game winning streak beating Alabama and Vanderbilt here the last two games. They're a Frank Martin-coached team, so we know they're going to challenge you to get up in the lane and will be physical and aggressive.

Anthony Grant, Alabama: Of their first 10 conference games, six of them were on the road. Every game they played at home was a very challenging game, I think a one- or two-possession game. I think coach Martin has got those guys playing extremely hard. Unfortunately for us we weren't able to make enough plays to win, but he's a great coach and his guys are obviously responding to what he's asking them to do. They're playing well.

Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss: I've got tremendous respect for Frank. You know, we've played them twice and we beat them by a grand total of five. We beat them by one at their place in a game that could have gone either way and were just fortunate to come up with one more possession. Then at our place we're down 15, they completely control the game, and at the time they were on some semblance of a losing streak, I don't think they'd won a game in league play, and Frank had them playing with tremendous poise and toughness and they really took the fight to us. We had to play probably our best seven or eight minutes of basketball of the year down the stretch to win that game.

I knew that he was getting close to breaking through. I was happy personally to see him break through last week and come up with some big home wins. I know his team is still playing with a lot of intensity. They're like all of us, our margin of error comes down to making a shot here or there. Frank's doing a great job of getting they program back to where I know they all want it to be.

Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M: They're a physical, bruising, I would say a Big 12 basketball team. Frank's done a good job ina short amount of time getting his guys to buy in to how he likes to play. They've got some nice young players, they're going to do a good job on the offensive glass. It looks like they're playing their best basketball at the right time of year.

For Martin, being compared to a Big 12 team is a compliment he's glad to receive.

"(Billy Kennedy) and I were both in that league, and the one thing I can tell you about that league is that it was extremely athletic and extremely physical," Martin said. "I think our league is like that too, I just don't think the SEC gets credit for physicality and the athleticism in the league.

"You play Florida and you're not physical, you have no chance. You play Kentucky and you're not physical, you have no chance. You play Alabama, Tennessee and you're not physical, you have no chance.

"I think our program, we're starting to get kids to play with the same physicality that our teams played with at K-State.



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