David Cloninger

Ellington punts rest, gets back on basketball court

USC's Bruce Ellington
USC's Bruce Ellington mbergen@thestate.com

It’s been a long, grueling season, and South Carolina’s football players have earned a break. Practices, games, conditioning — the time between now and bowl practice is meant for studying and resting.

Yet, Frank Martin wasn’t surprised when his phone rang on Monday and the caller ID read “Bruce Ellington.” He would have been surprised if Ellington hadn’t called.

“Bruce called yesterday, said he wanted to practice,” Martin said on Tuesday. “Bruce is off the charts.”

Fresh off his junior football season, and a game four days ago in which he caught four passes for 51 yards, Ellington didn’t want to rest. He wanted to get back on the court.

Martin was happy to oblige. Ellington might not have been around much in the fall, might not be in “basketball shape,” but he is a senior on the court and someone to whom Martin’s youngsters look up. He welcomed him, and then watched as Ellington showed no signs of a layoff.

“He understands stuff, and he hasn’t been at practice as much as he was last year,” Martin said. “Last year, he’d sneak in here and watch us practice every once in a while, and he hasn’t been able to do it this year because of the time we’re practicing at. And 20 minutes in, he already understood some of the things we’re doing differently, better than some of the guys that have been here for eight weeks.

“He brings that dynamic. He brings a speed, a strength, that sense of urgency, and a personality that becomes infectious.”

Ellington will travel with South Carolina (2-2) when it heads to No. 9 Oklahoma State on Friday for its matchup in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. He likely will play, but how much will be determined by the flow of the game.

The Gamecocks are glad to have him in any case. It’s still Ellington, the guy who has done as much as possible to remain involved with basketball, his first love, while he’s been adding to a solid career in football.

“He showed that he didn’t even play a football season, that he’s been working, like he had fresh legs,” marveled senior guard Brenton Williams. “And he just played a game against Clemson just days ago. It was pretty great to see him out there, and everybody on the team was pretty excited to see him.”

Martin and football coach Steve Spurrier will speak after Friday’s game about Ellington’s future availability. The football Gamecocks don’t know their bowl destination or practice plans yet, and the basketball Gamecocks won’t play again until Dec. 17.

In the past, the agreement has been to leave it up to Ellington, with what he feels comfortable doing. The first year Ellington played two sports, he played a night basketball game in Columbia on Dec. 28 before hopping a red-eye flight to Orlando, Fla., and Capital One Bowl practice the next morning.

It seems likely that Ellington could play basketball on Dec. 17 and Dec. 19, since they’re both home games. After that, the basketball team heads to Hawaii for three games from Dec. 22-25.

The football Gamecocks probably will head to wherever they’re selected shortly after Christmas. USC has home basketball games on Dec. 28 and Dec. 30; if USC plays in a New Year’s Day Bowl, Ellington probably would be out for one or both of those two games. If the Gamecocks are in a later bowl game — such as the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 3 — he could play in those games.

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