The Daily Gamecock

Ellington set for 2011-12 basketball debut

Multi-sport athlete to rejoin Gamecocks tonight against Providence

South Carolina point guard Eric Smith estimated that the longest he has gone without shooting a basketball since he started playing the sport was for two months due to a broken leg.

When Smith started to shoot again, he said it was challenging.

“It wasn’t like starting over,” he said, “but you got to get a feel for the basketball again.”

Smith’s roommate Bruce Ellington, the point guard-turned-slotback-turned point guard again, didn’t suffer a broken leg. And he didn’t go quite as long without touching a basketball. But the Moncks Corner native’s foray into football did keep him from spending much, if any, time practicing hoops. So when Ellington returned to the men’s basketball team Monday with the regular football season complete, there was some concern about how easily he would transition back into the sport.

So far, so good, Smith said, because Ellington didn’t look anything like how Smith envisions he looked after a long layoff.

“Bruce, he looked pretty good (shooting),” Smith said.

That’s a welcome sign for the struggling Gamecocks as they try to snap a two-game losing streak today against Providence in a Big East-SEC Challenge matchup at Colonial Life Arena.

“He’s a really good player,” said forward Lakeem Jackson, who has been playing point guard in Ellington’s absence. “We’re just glad to have him back on the team.”

Ellington’s teammates were somewhat surprised Monday when he arrived for a 6 a.m. practice, figuring he’d begin the process of easing back onto the court at a more reasonable hour. But, Ellington said, the decision to get up that early to participate was a foregone conclusion.

“I told them I made a commitment to playing on the basketball team after Clemson,” he said. “So, I’m here.”

So, after Ellington caught three receptions for 71 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown reception, in the Gamecocks’ 34-13 romp over the rival Tigers on Saturday, he rested Sunday in order to be back on the hardwood on Monday. In addition to practice time, he has reviewed a good deal of film with the coaching staff in order to be caught up to speed on the team’s plays and defensive alignments. Ellington’s shooting gets better every day, he said, and his jump stops in the lane still need a bit of work, but other than that he feels ready to play against the Friars. Especially since he’s been forced to watch during USC’s bumpy 2-4 start.

“It’s been tough,” Ellington said. “Just being out there, not being able to help the team and knowing you can help the team.”

USC coach Darrin Horn said he has been pleased with Ellington’s progress so far.

“He’s done well — really. Better than expected just in terms of transition. It’s a really difficult transition,” Horn said. “Basketball is a unique sport in terms of the timing. Especially for a point guard who plays with speed, but his transition, for two days anyway, has been good. If you’ve coached him and know him well, you can see obvious rust.

“At the same time, he’s done a lot of really good things and you know he’s going to compete and bring you great athleticism.”

Ellington started in all of USC’s 30 games last season. He led the team in both minutes (30.9) and points (12.8) per game and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. But, at least for the time being, Horn said he will be coming off the bench.

Ellington said he doesn’t mind the fact he won’t start.

“I’m just here to help the team win,” Ellington said. “I’ll do whatever coach Horn wants me to do.”