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Thornwell rides a big NCAA Tournament back to NBA interest

April 24, 2017 Columns No Comments

The NCAA Tournament is always an event that sees players emerge from out of the shadows. Whether it’s a big game, a big play, or even multiple big games, the opportunity to shine on a big stage in front of many people who might not ordinarily see a player is ever-present. This year, Sindarius Thornwell did just that, and he did it with multiple big games, being at the nerve center of South Carolina’s Final Four run.

The end result of the storybook few weeks was not a national championship. But for Thornwell, it appears to be new life as far as his future is concerned.

Thornwell was not on a lot of radars outside of the Carolinas before the NCAA Tournament. He was the SEC Player of the Year, but chances are the casual fan had no idea who he was. If you asked many who won SEC Player of the Year, chances are many would answer that one of Kentucky’s freshmen guards won it. He was a good player for three years, though he had a bit of a sophomore slump, but this year was different.

It almost wasn’t the special year it has been, though. The 6’5″ senior was suspended in December for six games, one that came from the athletic department and not the basketball program. It turns out, he was arrested last May on charges of possession of marijuana and driving under a suspended license, the latter of which resulted from not paying two earlier traffic tickets. It’s a sign that while he’s generally been a model young man, he hasn’t been perfect.

Lest one think that says the most about him, though, he’s been a regular on the SEC Academic Honor Roll during his college career. He’s done the work off the court consistently.

Then, he came back from the suspension better than ever. Before the suspension, he was averaging 18.7 points per game, and he finished the season averaging 21.4 points per game. In SEC play, he averaged over 22 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, and in the NCAA Tournament he was even better in averaging 23.6 points per game and shooting over 40 percent from long range.

More than that, though, Thornwell was a leader and knows the game exceptionally well. While he’s athletic and skilled, he won’t leap out at you in either respect the way some others will. Head coach Frank Martin shared how Thornwell will grab him when he’s getting on a younger player about a play that just happened and turn the conversation right around to what Martin needs Thornwell to do to help his teammate.

That leadership shined as he led the Gamecocks on their Final Four run, and it gave new life to how he has been viewed by NBA scouts. It’s not like he was always lacking tools to play at another level. He can be a very good passer, rebounder and defender, and his size is not an issue for playing off the ball. What hurt him is that he’s a good, not great, athlete, and he was up and down his first three years. The latter is the biggest reason he fell off many scouts’ radars during his college career.

Thanks largely to his play in March, Thornwell ended up on top in the final Value Add rankings done by John Pudner, a figure in a similar vein to WAR in baseball. His total put him ahead of the likes of Frank Mason III (Kansas) and Josh Hart (Villanova), two players who were in every national Player of the Year discussion.

The best way to describe his pro potential is that he has the tools to hang around in the NBA for a long time, though he doesn’t have the look of a perennial all-star. Instead, he could be a key reserve or spot starter on a good team, an indispensable part of a winning team. There is a place for those players in the NBA, even if they don’t often hear their name called during the early portion of the draft. Nowadays, the NBA Draft is about upside, so value is what teams look for later. Thornwell represents the latter.

Thornwell is now on many NBA radars with the season over and underclassmen still announcing their draft intentions (including one of his teammates, sophomore guard and fellow Palmetto State native P.J. Dozier, who just signed with an agent and is staying in the draft). He doesn’t seem likely to be on his way to working up into the first round, but getting his name called on draft night now seems like a possibility. And just like his team only needed a chance in the NCAA Tournament to prove themselves, he, too, will only need a chance to prove himself to an NBA team.

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College Basketball Tonight

We hope you enjoyed COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, along with co-hosts Mike Jarvis and Terry O'Connor, both former Division I coaches. It also included many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show aired on AM 710 WOR in New York City on Sunday evenings starting with Selection Sunday and running through the NCAA Tournament.

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