David Cloninger

Dozier, Thornwell will take different paths to pro career

The responses were predictable.

“He should have stayed,” “Got bad advice” and “What was he thinking” adorned the comments when P.J. Dozier wasn’t drafted on Thursday night (he later signed a free-agent deal with the Lakers, putting he and Sindarius Thornwell in the same city to start their pro careers).

That’s what’s said when a player enters the draft early and isn’t selected. None of us have a crystal ball, though. Nobody has a time machine to implement then what they know now and nobody will know exactly why Dozier wasn’t picked.

The public part of it was the jump shot, something that looked fine in workouts but wasn’t tested in a 5-on-5 game. The workouts are a great idea for college players considering the leap to go pro, but they don’t tell an NBA honcho everything – it’s more of a chance to see players’ physical nature, how they conduct interviews, ask them about anything that might have gone on at school.

Dozier’s game, as magnificent as it was during the NCAA tournament, was on a seasonlong rollercoaster because of that jump shot. It peaked in December when he was the Gamecocks’ best player while Thornwell was suspended, dipped when Thornwell returned and a back injury affected him, then returned to form when it needed to.

But he gets that desired chance this summer. The free-agent deal means he can play in pickup games and really show off what he can do. It’s not like it’s a death knell to his NBA chances to not be drafted – he would know that better than anybody, considering uncle Terry Dozier played a few games in the NBA without benefit of a draft pick. Tarence Kinsey likewise played 109 games over three NBA seasons without being drafted.

No, it didn’t go the way Dozier wanted, but he does get a chance. “Whatever it was, I’m going to continue to do my best to grind and prove them wrong,” he said.

Thornwell won’t have as tough a time trying to prove himself, and he gets a familiar face to ease the burden of being cross-country from his family (Jawun Evans is a Greenville native who played under Brad Underwood and Mike Boynton at Oklahoma State). His main goal is trying to be the glue – a term he was constantly complimented with during the workout process – and keep what could be a fracturing team together.

Rookies can only do so much when surrounded by so much veteran talent, but the Clippers have a busy summer ahead. Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are free agents (as well as the solid J.J. Redick) and there are whispers they could try to bring in Carmelo Anthony.

Thornwell has to arrive and be exactly what he was at South Carolina – willing and able to do anything to help the team. Want him to play point? He’ll play point. Want him to play power forward? No problem. He’ll defend, score, dish, rebound and block with the best of them, wherever he goes.

He got his chance after earning it with the best individual season in USC history, capped by the Gamecocks’ first SEC Player of the Year award and Final Four appearance.

“I’m a good wing defender, and they need somebody to come in and guard,” Thornwell said. “That’s my job. Just compete and do what I do.”

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