The NCAA’s decision to let basketball coaches work with their teams during the summer has been a boon for the sport. Freshmen can enroll and the coaches don’t have to wait until the season begins to get a look at their players’ skills.
While it’s good for teams to play pickup and scrimmage each other during the long preseason, coaches also desire chances against outside competition. Several South Carolina players will get an opportunity to do so at the end of July.
USC coach Frank Martin will be an assistant coach and Ty Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell will take part in the Four Nations Cup this summer, playing against foreign national teams in Europe. The trio will join players and coaches from across the U.S. and head overseas, where Team USA will play Estonia, Slovakia, France and Finland.
“The gentleman that runs it, Guy Rancourt and I, we’re longtime friends,” Martin said on Thursday. “He needed a point guard last summer, and Ty (Johnson) was going to go. But Ty was worried about getting himself prepared to play for us, so he decided to not make the trip. Guy’s always wanted me to coach it, so I finally took that deal.”
“We get to continue our chemistry playing together,” said Johnson, who said he’s 100 percent back from the broken foot he suffered last season. “This gives us another few games playing with each other and playing against other guys.”
Johnson has had international experience before, and Thornwell has played against international teams in the U.S. Martin went to Russia last summer as part of Team USA’s entry in the World University Games. The Four Nations Cup gives the two players the opportunity to compete against longtime professionals, while Martin receives a chance to whip a team into shape in a short span to play pro teams.
“It’s going to make me a better coach,” Martin said, while comparing some of the pro teams he’ll face to the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. “To prepare a team to go win against teams that are pro teams and national teams that have a system in place.”
Johnson and Thornwell have been in Columbia this summer, working out with the team and getting USC’s three freshmen indoctrinated. They, along with the rest of the team, will participate in the S.C. Pro-Am, former player Carey Rich’s event that showcases high school, college and pro talent in exhibition games at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School.
The Pro-Am begins on July 10 and lasts until July 30, with playoffs following. If Thornwell’s or Johnson’s teams make the playoffs, they can’t participate because they leave July 30 for a two-day, four-practice training camp at Columbia University and then head to Europe.
It’s a chance for Johnson to measure himself against pro competition, and for Thornwell, the All-SEC freshman, to continue improving his game. Rancourt wanted Thornwell along with Johnson.
The two players are looking forward to the trip. They see themselves as leaders and on-the-court coaches, instructing their new teammates about their new assistant coach.
“Having Frank on the sideline, we got to listen, knowing that you just can’t be out here playing around,” Johnson said. “