David Cloninger

Thornwell’s ascension to NBA further promotes USC basketball

Frank Martin has mentioned it since the season ended. South Carolina going to the Final Four tapped a limitless gusher of good publicity.

The derrick keeps spewing after Thursday, when Sindarius Thornwell became the first Gamecock since 2006 to become an NBA Draft pick.

Recruiting, Martin said, has picked up after the Gamecocks became the story of the NCAA Tournament, the coach fielding phone calls that he might never have had hope of receiving before. Now those same recruits might get to see a South Carolina kid who stayed home to play for his home-state team scuffling with LeBron and Steph on TV.

National recruits see it. South Carolina recruits see it. National recruits from South Carolina – such as Spartanburg’s Zion Williamson, No. 2 nationally in the Class of 2018, and Rock Hill’s D.J. Burns, No. 45 nationally in the Class of 2019 – see it.

Building a pipeline from New York to Columbia was responsible for the glory days of Gamecock basketball past. While Martin will still recruit other areas (like New York and his native Miami) constructing a fence around South Carolina’s borders can make his 2016-17 success more than a one-year wonder.

South Carolina churns out basketball talent. But keeping them here to play for USC has been tough. For every Alex English and BJ McKie who decided to stick around, there was a Xavier McDaniel or Raymond Felton who didn’t.

Even Devan Downey had one year at Cincinnati before he returned, and that only happened because of a coaching change. Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal bypassed college altogether (and there are still some who swear Garnett was Gar-net if he’d have gone to school) and others such as Ray Allen and Ty Corbin chose schools far beyond state borders.

Dave Odom made a point long ago. South Carolina is in the middle of ACC country, the easternmost point in the SEC. It’s tough to recruit locally when kids grow up watching the ACC or Big East and don’t flip on the telly to see Arkansas and LSU tussling live from Baton Rouge. Throw in the Gamecocks’ lack of consistent success and it wasn’t surprising when the top Palmetto recruit left every year.

It’s a battle that’s constantly fought. Seventh Woods went to North Carolina because he grew up loving North Carolina, the one thing USC could never overcome. L.J. Peak and Tevin Mack also spurned USC for supposedly greener pastures.

Thornwell could have gone anywhere, and knew he’d be getting much more attention than he was already getting by playing at Oak Hill as a senior. But Martin’s project in Columbia and wanting to stay home called so powerfully to him that he committed before he left, then spent his senior year playing well and trying to convince others to join him. P.J. Dozier heard that, saw that and wanted that as well.

Future South Carolina products saw the duo’s success and might want that for themselves. The door stands wide open.

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