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Whirlwind recruiting experience for Spinella

Steve Spinella's first full day in South Carolina began with a trip out for breakfast. The kid who grew up in New Jersey was a bit mystified by the grits the Gamecock coaches ordered.

"I was like, what's that?" Spinella said.

Later that night he recognized everything he needed. When Zam Fredrick's buzzer-beating layup beat No. 24 Florida on Wednesday, Spinella watched the celebration and was floored.

"When they won, the place went nuts," Spinella said. "What else could you expect? It was awesome."

That was sufficient enough. Two days later, the 6-foot-5, 185-pound shooting guard committed to play next season at South Carolina.

It completed a whirlwind recruiting experience for Spinella, a post-graduate student who out of high school was only offered scholarships by the likes of Quinnipiac, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Seeking better offers, and also to improve his build, Spinella decided to try another year of school. After things didn't work out at another prep school, he was contacted by Apex Academy, a New Jersey school started in 2007 aimed at athletes.

About three weeks ago, USC started recruiting Spinella, with assistant Mike Boynton, a Brooklyn native, leading the way.

Spinella becomes the third member of the Gamecocks' 2009 freshman class. Lakeem Jackson, a 6-5 swingman from the Charlotte area, and Ramon Galloway, a 6-2 combo guard from West Palm Beach, Fla., signed in Novemeber.

"I'm a scorer," Spinella said. "I can get to the basket when I want, and I could pull it from deep. I have a good mid-range game also. I dribble-drive. That's basically my strength. I'm also unselfish. I'll give the ball up. I'll find wide-open people."

Spinella said he was also being recruited by Penn State, Seton Hall and UNC-Greensboro, while Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech had also called.

“I think this is going to wind up being a player that helps USC," said Dave Telep, the national recruiting analyst for "He’s got size and a legitimate stroke. Good teams have guys like this. To get a guy with a marketable skill like shooting late is very fortunate. Michael Boynton dug this guy up and he’s going to help them.”

Rich Marcucci, the vice president and coach at APEX, thought Spinella could play right away at USC because of the conditioning and skillwork he's done at the school.

"He's almost like a sophomore," Marcucci said. "So I would imagine based on that and what they (USC coaches) were saying, I would say he'd have an impact right away."

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.