Sindarius Thornwell is a competitor. Fiery. Intense. Scowling.
Ricardo Priester worried about how these traits were on display in the best charge he has ever had at Lancaster High. One day, he pulled Thornwell aside.
“You’ve got to carry yourself better on the court because one day you could be playing in Colonial Life Arena,” Priester told him. “Some kids may be looking up to you, and they may mistake your competitive nature as being negative.”
So, Thornwell lightened up. A little.
And now, he indeed will be playing at Colonial Life Arena, doing exactly what he has hoped to do for a long time.
Thornwell signed his letter-of-intent with USC on Monday at Lancaster High. It was the culmination of a lifelong dream to play in front of friends and family and a desire to establish a trend of South Carolina’s elite players staying home.
“I represent my state,” he said. “I’m just going to get my work in and help them win and do the best I can.”
In the process, USC will be hoping Thornwell launches an instate trend similar to that jump-started by Marcus Lattimore, Stephon Gilmore and Alshon Jeffrey for the football program.
Signing the state’s consensus top player — a 6-5 swingman who can play three positions and perhaps a fourth — was the culmination of a recruiting process begun under former Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn and secured by incoming coach Frank Martin.
But it was the man in the middle — former Horn assistant Mike Boynton — who provided the bridge between the two.
“Coach Mike did a lot of legwork,” said Thornwell’s uncle, DaJuan. “Coach Mike continued even though Horn got fired. He continued, and he told coach Martin, ‘Hey, this is the guy you need to get before you do anything.’ ”
Still at that point, Thornwell’s faith in USC had been shaken by the downturn under Horn. He opened his recruiting and reluctantly began looking at other schools beyond USC and Clemson.
“When (Horn) was there toward the end, I kind of didn’t want to go there because they weren’t winning and they weren’t bringing and good players in,” Thornwell said.
When Thornwell heard it was the intense Martin taking over the Gamecocks, the thoughts that ran through his head were predictable.
“All I could think of is how he’d be going crazy on the sidelines,” Thornwell said. “Is he really crazy? Is he as psycho off the court as he is on the court? I wanted to get the feel for him off the court.”
Martin took Boynton at his word and was attending a Thornwell workout within a day of arriving at USC. Once there, Martin easily passed the Thornwell family’s tests.
“He brought me in like I was one of his, like I was already there,” Thornwell said.
“Him coming in from (Kansas State), he could have gone somewhere else to get recruits, but he came straight here,” DaJuan Thornwell said. “And that was the biggest thing.”
Thornwell attended Friday’s game against Morgan State, and his feelings about Martin were reaffirmed.
“It’s the way that he fusses at you,” he said. “He picks you up at the same time. Most coaches will fuss at you and leave you there, and you have to pick your own self up. He just cares. He loves his players.”