South Carolina men’s basketball coach Frank Martin wants sophomore guard Sindarius Thornwell to become more of a leader this season.
“I can’t force Sindarius to be something he doesn’t want to be,” said Martin, who is in his third season at South Carolina. “He has to be comfortable in his own skin, and he has to maximize that every day. But he wants to be a better leader, in the way he acts and the way he communicates every day.”
But stepping into that role is something Thornwell, a native of Lancaster, S.C., is more than willing to do.
“That comes naturally to me,” said Thornwell, who averaged 13.4 points for the Gamecocks last season. “I’ve always taken that role, and if coach wants me to be a leader, I’ll embrace and try my best.”
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Thornwell, who started his prep career at Lancaster High and finished it at Oak Hill Academy, in Mouth of Wilson, Va. is one of four starters back from a Gamecocks team that went 14-20 last season and made a surprising run to the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.
Thornwell played mostly at shooting guard last season, but he also spent time at point guard. He struggled there at times and committed 106 turnovers to 101 assists.
“That forced him to understand the game better,” Martin said. “His game has grown now. He’s been through it. He has a certain understanding of what it takes to succeed.”
The Gamecocks, picked to finish 12th in the league at the SEC’s media day Wednesday at the Ballantyne Hotel, open their season Nov. 14 against North Florida. Other non-conference home games for the Gamecocks are much more attractive, including Baylor (Nov. 18), Oklahoma State (Dec. 6) and Clemson (Dec. 19).
• What’s the SEC’s basketball media tipoff doing in Ballantyne? The new SEC Network is based just a few blocks away at ESPN’s Charlotte headquarters, and this was a good showcase opportunity.
• Kentucky is an unsurprising and unanimous pick to win the league, getting all 20 first-place votes from a combination of coaches and national media members. The Wildcats had 280 points, with Florida second at 258. And although guard Aaron Harrison is the sole Kentucky player on the first-team preseason all-conference team, four other Wildcats – forwards Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Karl-Anthony Towns and guard Andrew Harrison – made the second team.
• Kentucky and Florida both advanced to the Final Four last season, which added to the SEC’s reputation as a top-heavy league.
“There’s a big gap between those two and the rest of the league,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “But it’s not as big as the national perception.”
Florida coach Billy Donovan said an improvement in the league’s non-conference scheduling will also help the perception.
“What happens is that leagues gets labeled,” Donovan said. “If you get through the non-conference schedule, and you have a really good record, once you get to league play, the perception is the league is really good. But we had some tough losses against other conference, then you get to the league and you’re labeled as not so good.”
• Pearl is in his first season at Auburn after being given a three-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA. He was fired at Tennessee in 2011 after admitting he lied to the NCAA about a recruiting violation.
“I’m grateful to be able to stay in the game after I made those mistakes,” Pearl said. “Am I a better man than I was then? I used to always believe that I was a good coach, but I tried to be a better man. I just know that over the past three years I’ve worked really hard. I’m accountable for what I did. But I’m also really proud of our record (at Tennessee) with graduating our student-athletes and our service in the community. So this isn’t about any kind of redemption in that regard.”
• Pearl is one of three first-year coaches in the league, joining Missouri’s Kim Anderson (from Central Missouri) and Tennessee’s Donnie Tyndall (Southern Mississippi).