USC men’s basketball coach Frank Martin has kept his distance from Steve Spurrier on the subject of Bruce Ellington during the fall.
“I, obviously, wasn’t going to bother him during the season,” Martin said Wednesday. “I know if I was in his shoes, the last thing I’d want was the basketball coach calling me while I’m trying to set school records and be concerned about somebody playing basketball.”
Ellington forced the issue recently by expressing his desire to practice with the basketball team while the football team was on hiatus. Martin, who previously had stated he would not allow Ellington to join the team until after the bowl game, relented.
“The dynamic here is Bruce,” Martin said. “Bruce wants to play basketball. Bruce loves football. Bruce loves to play basketball. Sometimes, you come across special athletes that just are capable of doing both.
“Coach Spurrier fully supports him playing (basketball),” Martin continued. “He wants him to play. I’ve barely been around (Ellington) and my respect for him grows daily because of how much he cares.”
Ellington joined the team Tuesday and traveled with the Gamecocks for today’s game at St. John’s. He likely will be a part of the team until football practice resumes.
“After talking with (Spurrier), we made the decision we were going to let Bruce practice for the next couple of weeks with us,” Martin said. “Whether he’ll play or not, I don’t know. But if he’s going to practice, then we need to expose him to how we do things, and we’ll go from there.”
Martin left open the possibility of playing Ellington in games.
“Could he play? I don’t see why not,” Martin said. “If he’s going to do it, let’s do it. I’m not into this half-in, half-out stuff. You’re either in or you’re out. That’s my philosophy.
“Once we made the decision (Tuesday) to allow him to be part of it for the next couple of weeks, then let’s do it right, let’s be fully invested,” Martin continued. “How much he’ll play, I don’t know.”
Ellington is the football team’s leading wide receiver with 38 receptions for 564 yards and six touchdowns. Martin said it was when Ellington progressed from splitting duties at receiver and kick returner to solely playing at receiver, that he really had any misgivings about addressing Ellington’s basketball timetable.
“Bruce is not a kick returner for them. Bruce is their leading receiver. Bruce is a huge part of their team,” Martin said. “That team has unfinished business left in their season and the last thing I want to do is disrupt that in any way.”
Ellington, of course, has history with such a transition. He joined the team after last year’s Clemson game and played in 24 games, starting 15. He averaged more than 11 points per game and instantly becomes USC’s lead returning scorer upon stepping on the court.
Junior point guard Eric Smith said Ellington’s return already has been a boon in practice.
“It helps out practice and makes everything more competitive,” Smith said. “Definitely adds another body, so our guys can stay fresh in practice and I think he looks well, too.”
Martin said he likes the fact Ellington will be bringing a football toughness to his team.
“I like football players. I think they bring a level of toughness to the basketball team that you’ve got to have,” he said. “When you play a sport where you’re asked to run as fast as you can and collide with a guy that’s running as fast as he can and you fall down and you’ve got to get up and do it again on the next play? There’s a certain sense of ‘I’ve got to get this done’ that those guys bring that we need on our team.”
If the Gamecocks football team sticks to its typical New Year’s Day bowl game practice schedule, it likely means Ellington will be with the basketball team for three games — today at St. John’s, Sunday against Clemson and Dec. 7 against Jacksonville. The team does not play again until Dec. 19 against Appalachian State.
“When football starts practice for bowl preparation, he will be back in football every single day,” Martin said. “They’ve got one more huge game to play and my concern the whole time was I didn’t want attention placed on what sport he’s playing, when he’s coming.
“I wanted him to be a football player, because that’s what that team deserves,” Martin continued. “And now that they have a couple of weeks off, I was open to listening to (Spurrier) and Bruce and they both convinced me. So I feel it’s not going to be a distraction or disruption.”