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July 15, 2014

Thornwell leading by example

He's the unquestioned leader of the University of South Carolina men's basketball team, the centerpiece of head coach Frank Martin's rebuilding program and the linchpin around which Gamecock success hinges.

He's 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Sindarius Thornwell, a 2014 SEC All-Freshman selection and the team's leading returning scorer, and yet despite being perhaps the one player with the most cause to coast over the summer, here he is at the S.C. Pro-Am arriving early, playing a spirited overtime game against fellow guard Duane Notice in which he pours in 25 points and nine rebounds while playnig ferocious defense and hanging around the scorer's table after his game is done to watch fellow teammates Marcus Stroman, TeMarcus Blanton and Mindaugas Kacinas play.

In short, Thornwell is leading by example, just like he's always done, just like he did all last year as the bell cow for a program in transition featuring eight newcomers and just like he did down the stretch when he helped the Gamecocks to a thrilling win over national runner-up Kentucky that sparked a 4-2 run over USC's final six games, including winning two games in Atlanta at the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2006.

For a player with the least to prove going into the 2014-15 season he's competing and behaving like the one with the most on the line.

Because that's what leaders do.

"I'm not one of those guys who assign captains," Frank Martin said earlier this month. "Some people kind of like step forward like, 'I'm the captain,' but once you get in the locker room their voice, no one listens to it.

"Sindarius is one of those kids; to me, leaders are ones who accept responsibility and are willing to fight for that responsibility and who helps and keeps others in check. Sindarius falls into that category."

Like a recumbent lion sprawled on the floor of Heathwood Hall Episcopal School's gym, Thornwell jokes with TeMarcus Blanton and Marcus Stroman as they run past him up and down the court while alternately chatting with former USC standout point guard and tournament organizer Carey Rich. For maybe the first time as a Gamecock, Thornwell looks comfortable in his skin and his role.

"We want to win more games," said Thornwell, who is averaging 22.5 points per game in Pro-Am action, after Thursday's action. "We all have to get better, so I try to help the young guys and some of the guys who have been here. We all try to help each other.

"It's not just me taking a leadership role because I'm not really a vocal leader, so I try to lead by example. Hopefully if the guys see me in the gym, they'll get in the gym. That's the way I try to lead."

From a purely basketball standpoint, Thornwell is using the summer to improve areas of weakness exposed by a long freshman season in which he became the focus of most every team's defensive efforts. He said he's working on four specific areas.

"Getting stronger, my conditioning and working on my jump shot," Thornwell said. "And my ball-handling."

Thornwell said he's hoping with Ty Johnson back at point guard plus incoming point guard recruit Marcus Stroman, he can focus his efforts at his most natural position.

"(The) two," Thornwell said of the shooting guard spot he's built to excel at. "I can play shooting guard, but I'll play where coach needs me.

"It's good having Ty back so me and Duane (Notice) can play more off the ball and play our natural positions. It's good to be more versatile and play multiple positions."



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