It is hard not to mention Sindarius Thornwell when describing the success of the South Carolina men's basketball program.
Thornwell was drafted in the second round of the 2017 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, but his draft rights were traded to Los Angeles, and now he plays for the Clippers. Although he is making a name for himself in the NBA, he cherishes the legacy that he has left on the school.
His senior season, he helped lead the team to the furthest it had ever been in the NCAA tournament. Averaging 21.4 points per game that lifted the team to a 26-11 record, this high caliber play in the SEC and NCAA tournament helped prepare Thornwell for the draft.
"During that run you had to focus in everything; it was quick turns, the competition was there," Thornwell said. "A lot of guys we made that run on are now in the NBA so playing against that talent kinda prepared me for draft workouts and stuff like that, because some of those guys were the same guys I seen in my workouts.”
A key game in easing the transition to the NBA was the quadruple overtime game against Alabama, according to Thornwell. He mustered 44 points and 21 rebounds on 56 minutes of playing time. Unfortunately, the Gamecocks were unable to overcome the Crimson Tide as they lost 90-86. A tightly contested loss is not all bad — players learn how to keep grinding until the last buzzer sounds. They might think they are running on empty but they somehow will themselves to push forward.
That drive was what Thornwell described as the most important thing he learned at the University of South Carolina.
Sindarius Thornwell will always remember the mark he made at South Carolina and use what he learned in his NBA career.
“Keep fighting," Thornwell said. "When times get hard, things not going your way, you work harder. I think that helps me a lot, because there were times at South Carolina where I went through it. I wanted to give up. Things weren't going my way. I remember the first day of school I called my mom ... at the end of the day I never gave up. I stayed with it, kept fighting, worked harder, and it helped me out in the long run.”
There was definitely an adjustment period for Thornwell transitioning from a senior in the SEC to a NBA rookie.
“It's been tough, you know you’re so used to having the ball, so used to being that leader that vocal guy. Whereas now you’re at the bottom now so you’ve got to earn your way up," he said. "It's not given to you; everything is earned, all the way to the end and you’ve gotta work for it.”
In Thornwell's senior season at South Carolina, he averaged 33.9 minutes per game and was that vocal leader. But it does not compare to his current season with the Clippers, where he has fought his way up to averaging 13.7 minutes per game. Frank Martin's coaching helped prepare Thornwell for his rookie professional season and the grind that comes with it.
“It helped me through the tough times that I'm going to go through this season," he said. "For him being tough on me, hard on me, it prepared me mentally for these tough times when things aren't going my way or I'm not playing as much as I want to.”
Thornwell has yet to make a return to Columbia since going professional but hopes to return when he can find a break in the season. When asked about what he missed most, the answer was simple.
“Everything. Coach Frank of course, the school, our fans — greatest fans in the world, the whole support, being out there playing in Colonial Life and having fun with my brothers," Thornwell said. "Playing with those guys, it was just a fun part being around them everyday.”