Gunter: The best ever? Enjoy Thornwell while you can

Gunter: The best ever? Enjoy Thornwell while you can

In recent weeks on my radio show, “The All New Early Game” on 107.5 The Game, Tim Hill and I have started to debate just what exactly is Sindarius Thornwell doing this season for South Carolina basketball.

I have always been a believer that we as fans and media tend to take things for granted as they are happening and do not appreciate greatness or a fantastic individual season until they are in the rearview mirror and we miss an opportunity to enjoy the player and his accomplishments as they are actually happening.

Thornwell is having one of, if not the best, single season in Gamecock basketball history. His senior season is so good, in fact, that I have started to ask if he is the best all-time Gamecock basketball player that I have ever seen.  Now it should be noted I am 34 years old. I did not see the likes of Kevin Joyce, Alex English or Zam Frederick, so keep that in mind if you have seen them play and instantly start questioning my judgement on Gamecock basketball.

Still, the three best players I have seen in my time watching as a fan and covering the team are BJ McKie, Devan Downey and now Thornwell. There have been plenty of other good players — Melvin Watson, Larry Davis, Chuck Eidson, Carlos Powell and Tre Kelley instantly come to mind.

Thornwell, however, is likely the best of the bunch.  The reason I believe that is he is likely the most complete player of the group that includes McKie and Downey.  The 6-foot-5 senior has not only led the Gamecocks in scoring and scored big basket after big basket when the opposition knows the Gamecocks need one but he has also been the team’s and potentially the league’s best defender. He is a force on the boards and has led the league in steals. 

The Gamecocks are poised to have a big season and are on the cusp of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years. Of course, that could also play into the overall resume of Thornwell when it is time to celebrate his career and look at where he stacks up in regards to all time Gamecock greats. 

But that time is still a few months away. Enjoy Thornwell while you can. The Lancaster native did something different you don’t see many in-state players do and that is stay in the Palmetto State and attempt to make South Carolina basketball great. It would have been easy for Thornwell to bolt for greener pastures and the opportunity to play for a national name. 

Instead he trusted in the program that head coach Frank Martin was building and appears to be ready to lead the Gamecocks to the NCAA Tournament. His games this season against Alabama and on the road at Kentucky were games for the ages. 

Against the Wildcats, Thornwell showed why he should be SEC Player of the Year as he single handily kept the Gamecocks in the game and proved he has NBA qualities to his game. In the loss to the Crimson Tide, Thornwell was magnificent getting to the foul line time after time and hitting nearly every big shot the Gamecocks needed in the dramatic four-overtime game. 

So with two home games remaining, I encourage Gamecock fans to enjoy and embrace Thornwell and what he has become for the Gamecocks.  Following the loss to Arkansas, I watched as he took time to pose for pictures and speak to children waiting by the locker room after the game. Maybe that is one thing fans do not see enough of, but Thornwell has not only represented the team well on the court but he continues to do so off the court as well. 

Make sure you attend Senior Night and honor a player that could have easily turned down the Gamecocks and sought a higher profile. Instead he elected to come to South Carolina and helped build a program. In my book, that places him among the all-time greats to ever wear a Gamecock uniform, regardless of sport. When it is all said and done, we will then rehash his place in Gamecock lore and whether he is indeed the best player I have ever seen in Columbia. 

Until then, enjoy the ride and enjoy watching the in-state product carry the Gamecocks through the final few weeks of the regular season and into the postseason. 

**Latest column by Bill Gunter (photo by Jenny Dilworth)/Follow Gunter on Twitter at @WilGunter**